An Asian Buddhist to the US Senate - A Hindu to the US House: Two historic firsts for religion in American politics
Two historic firsts for religion in American politics were created at the November 6 national elections in the United States in electing, from the same state of Hawaii, a Buddhist Asian American to the US Senate and a Hindu to the US House of Representatives.
Democratic Party US Representative Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, was elected to the US Senate to represent the State of Hawaii and youthful 31-year old Tulsi Gabbard, a Hindu, was elected to the US House to represent the same State.
Tulsi Gabbard who just became the first practicing Hindu elected to the U.S. House of Representatives will take her oath of office in January in Capitol Hill not on a Bible but on the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book.
US Senator-elect Mazie Hirono says “I don’t have a book [to swear upon] … But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty.”
Hirono and Gabbard will join an increasingly diverse Congress. The first Muslim to join the House or Senate, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was first elected in 2006 and reelected for a fourth term on Tuesday. In 2008, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) was the second Muslim elected to Congress. In 2008, Rep. Hark Johnson (D-Ga.), another Buddhist, also joined Congress, making history with him and Hirono the first Buddhists to be elected to Congress.
Mazie Hirono defeated former Republican governor Linda Lingle to become the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Hirono's biography is a classic American tale in which her family fled their homeland in search of a better life. Born in Fukushima, Japan, Hirono immigrated to Hawaii in 1955 with her mother and older brother when she was 8 to flee an abusive, alcoholic father.
They brought one suitcase and traveled in steerage to reach Hawaii, where they lived in poverty and shared a single bed in a single room in a boarding house. On the campaign trail, she recalled memories of breaking her childhood piggy bank to buy food for her family.
She eventually grew up to graduate from the University of Hawaii and earned a law degree at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, which she translated into a political career. She won a state House seat in 1980, where she carved out a role as a reliably liberal voice and consumer advocate. In 2004, she was elected lieutenant governor and, in 2006, to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The U.S. has elected its first Buddhist senator. Along with being the first Buddhist in the Senate, Hirono can claim two other firsts as well: she’s the first Asian-American female senator, and the first to have been born in Japan.
Tulsi Gabbard is an American politician and the Congresswoman-elect for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district. She will be the first Hindu member and one of the first female combat veterans of the United States Congress.
Gabbard previously served as Hawaii's youngest state representative, elected in 2002, and was the youngest woman in the United States to be elected to a state legislature. She is currently a Company Commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard, and has volunteered to serve on two deployments to the Middle East. She is also vice-president and co-founder of the environmental non-profit organization Healthy Hawaii Coalition.
Tulsi Gabbard was born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, the fourth of five children of Mike Gabbard and Carol Porter Gabbard. Her family moved to Hawaii in 1983 when Tulsi was two. Tulsi grew up in a multicultural, multi-religious household. Her father is of Samoan/Caucasian heritage and is a practicing Catholic who is a lector at his church, however he also likes to practice mantra meditation, including kirtan. Her mother is Caucasian and a practicing Hindu. Tulsi fully embraced Hinduism as a teenager. Her father is currently the State Senator for Hawaii's 19th District.
She graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with a degree in international business.
In April 2003, while serving in office, Gabbard enlisted in the Hawaii Army National Guard. She received several distinguished honor graduate titles and awards at Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.
In July 2004, Gabbard gave up her seat in office to deploy with her Hawaii National Guard unit, volunteering for a 12-month combat tour in Iraq, where she served in a field medical unit. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal at the end of this tour
Upon her return from Iraq in 2006, Gabbard began serving as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka in Washington, DC. She was responsible for issues involving veteran affairs, energy and natural resources, judiciary, and homeland security. She served as a surrogate speaker for Senator Akaka on many occasions, and built a grassroots network with the veteran community in Hawaii.
While working for the Senator, Gabbard graduated from the Accelerated Officer Candidate School at the Alabama Military Academy in March 2007. She made history as the first female to finish as the distinguished honor graduate in the Academy’s 50-year history.] She was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 29th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard to serve as the Military Police Platoon Leader.
She continued to work for Senator Akaka until 2009 when she again voluntarily deployed with her unit to the Middle East. During this second deployment, in addition to leading her platoon on a wide variety of security missions, she also conducted non-military host-nation visits and served as a primary trainer for the Kuwait National Guard. She was one of the first women to set foot inside a Kuwait military facility, and became the first woman to ever to be awarded and honored by the Kuwait National Guard for her work in their training and readiness program.
After returning home from her second deployment to the Middle East in 2009, Tulsi ran for a seat on the Honolulu City Council and was elected on November 3, 2010. She served as Chair of the Safety, Economic Development, and Government Affairs committee, as Vice Chair of the Budget committee and was a member of the Zoning and Public Works committee. In her capacity as committee chair, Tulsi took the lead on many important issues such as medical waste, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), dengue fever, and creating new economic opportunities through Honolulu’s first Sister City Summit. Gabbard resigned her council seat August 16, 2012 to focus on her congressional seat bid.
- Asian Tribune -