- Many Asian Americans have made history in 2021 by gaining seats in local government elections.
- Redistricting plans in many parts of the U.S., however, threaten Asian candidates running in upcoming elections by dividing Asian community voting blocs.
Over the last few months, an unprecedented number of Asian Americans have won positions in local government across the country. At the same time, statewide draft maps have proposed the division of Asian-majority communities, threatening Asians running for elected positions in future elections.
Three Asian Americans were elected the first mayor of Asian descent in their cities in November. Bruce Harrell, a 63-year-old former attorney, became the second Black and first Asian mayor in Seattle’s history. Aftab Pureval, a 39-year-old Indian Tibetan lawyer, became the first Asian American mayor of Cincinnati. In Boston, City Councilor Michelle Wu, 36, became the first woman and first person of color to be elected mayor.
City council elections also saw a historic number of Asian representation firsts. Five Asian American candidates won seats on the New York City Council for the first time, better representing the city’s approximately 8.3 million people — of which 14% are of Asian descent.
Shahana Hanif is one of the first two South Asian American council members on the New York City Council. Julie Won became one of the first Korean Americans elected to the City Council. Linda Lee is one of the first Korean Americans elected to the City Council and represents District 23. Shekar Krishnan is one of the first two South Asian council members in New York history. Sandra Ung represents Queens in District 20, which covers downtown Flushing, Murray Hill and Queensboro Hill.
Before the recent election, only two Asian Americans had served on the New York City Council.
Duluth, Minnesota, elected its first Muslim American to city office — Azrin Awal, a 25-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh.
The threat of draft maps
The 2020 U.S. redistricting cycle began this year in an attempt to better reflect the demographics recorded during the U.S. census. All 50 states will be redistricted, and the plans will be finalized in 2022.
Statewide draft maps have been released to the public over the last few months. However, some Asian communities found that the redistricting draft maps did not meet the criteria for accurate representation.
Palo Alto City Council Member Greg Lin Tanaka expressed concerns that California’s redistricting plans would dilute Asian voter trends. He said he was worried the redistricting plans would divide the established Asian community into different districts, causing current districts to lose their power in numbers.
Similarly, Asian American and Pacific Islander groups in California protested proposed draft maps that split West San Gabriel Valley and East San Gabriel Valley, both of which have spread-out Asian American residential areas.
In Texas, the state’s proposed redistricting maps split up Asian communities in Harris County and Fort Bend County into new districts.
In Chicago, city council members could pass an Asian-majority ward. But Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson expressed concerns that current proposals to unify Chicago’s Asian communities through current redistricting proposals would come at the expense of splitting other neighborhoods.