Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, right, congratulates candidate Tulsi Gabbard after both women won their Hawaii Congressional district seats on Nov. 6, 2012.
Democrat Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was elected Tuesday, succeeding Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who ran for the U.S. Senate.
The Iraq War veteran, born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, served on the Honolulu City Council and in the state Legislature.
Hirono, who is Buddhist, also won her race Tuesday. In 2006, she and Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson were the first Buddhists elected to Congress; in 2010, Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat from Hawaii who is also Buddhist was also elected. She will be the “first Buddhist senator when the new Congress convenes in January,” Religion News Service reported Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie and candidate Tulsi Gabbard celebrate their election victories at the Japanese Cultural Center on Nov. 6, 2012.
“Although there are not very many Hindus in Hawaii, I never felt discriminated against. I never really gave it a second thought growing up that any other reality existed, or that it was not the same everywhere,” Tulsi said in a statement Tuesday, the New York Daily News reported.
“Hirono is the first Asian-American woman, and only the second woman of color — after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill. — elected to the Senate,” according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. On the congresswoman’s Web site, she’s described as the ”first immigrant woman of Asian ancestry to be sworn into Congressional office.”
Gabbard’s and Hirono’s victories reflect how Asian Americans are contributing to the increasing diversity within the nation’s religious landscape, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. Later in November, Pew will release a report on the religious composition in Congress.
In 2006, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota was the first Muslim to serve in either the House or the Senate; two years later, Democratic Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana because the second Muslim in Congress.
“Other small religious groups started serving in Congress more than a century earlier. The first Jewish member arrived in 1845, when Lewis Charles Levin of the American Party began representing Pennsylvania in the House,” according a press statement from the Pew Forum. “The first Mormon in Congress, John Milton Bernhisel, began serving in 1851, after Utah was officially recognized as a territory. California Democrat Dalip Singh Saund, the first and so far only Sikh to serve in Congress, served three terms starting in 1957.”