Ellee Pai Hong: In January, a record 20 Asian American Pacific Islander members of Congress were sworn into office. For each election cycle since 2009, diversity on the Hill has continued to increase, and the 116th Congress is one of the most racially and ethically diverse in history. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Ellee Pai Hong. While congressional diversity continues to improve, people of color are underrepresented proportionate to their populations. Madalene Mielke President and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies is here to talk to me about this. Madalene, thank you so much for coming in today. I appreciate your time.
Madalene Mielke: Yes, absolutely.
Ellee Pai Hong: It's really encouraging to know that we have a record number of AAPI members in Congress currently. It's encouraging, but we still have a far way to go.
Madalene Mielke: Absolutely, we do. We are about 5.6% of the population. We have about 3% in representation on the federal office level, so that is something that we need to work on. And that includes working our pipelines that we can continue to have more elected offices from the local level, to the state level, and to the federal level.
Ellee Pai Hong: You talked about the pipeline, and the pipeline feeding into these elected offices. Part of that pipeline is the staffers. They're the staffers who work for these congressmen. It's really important to build that pipeline from there.
Madalene Mielke: Yes, absolutely. We have a staff program where we have paid internships. We have paid fellowship programs that allow undergraduate students to have paid opportunities as interns. And young professionals who are interested in learning more deeply about the legislative process, they are treated as full time staff, and that is our paid fellowship program, so that's an opportunity for people who may be in underrepresented communities to see what it looks to work on a legislative process on the federal level.
Ellee Pai Hong: Some recent numbers were reported and it said, only 2.7% of top House staff is AAPI. When you hear that low percentage point it tends to sound a little encouraging and, which is another reason why you find it so important to start young.
Madalene Mielke: Yes. It's important for people to see that there are Asian American Pacific Islanders who are in senior level positions who are there at the table being able to advise members of Congress whether they're also in agencies in the federal level working in the executive branch. And that in itself is really a testament of Asian Americans being leaders and being subject matter experts on things that aren't necessarily related to the Asian American community directly.
Ellee Pai Hong: The fact that people working in these position are such a low percentage of AAPI members while they're representing bigger numbers of AAPI. We all know we bring our life experiences into our perspectives and our work. That's why it's so important. It's not diversity for the sake of diversity. It's really about informing policy and talking to influencers.
Madalene Mielke: That's right. Being able to be at the table allows our legislative members to better understand their constituents, and so when you have also leaders like Congressman Andy Kim who represents a majority Caucasian district it shows that people can see him as a leader regardless of the fact that he is an Asian American. I think when you have staffers who are in the room who just understand the topic, and they understand how it relates to others in their community, it's helpful for people to see that Asian Americans are leaders in all subject matters.
Ellee Pai Hong: Historically, the halls of Congress has been very white, but it seems recently everyone is getting onboard. Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about adopting the NFL policy of interviewing one minority candidate for top positions. That's all coming from the top, which is encouraging. The Senate is doing something similar as well.
Madalene Mielke: That's right. Diversity is important in just making sure that we are recognizing that Asian Americans are a part of the fabric of this country, and are an integral part of the conversation of how policy making is being done.
Ellee Pai Hong: Another interesting program that you guys run is really helping folks who are interested in public service, teaching them how to go through the process. You have a program called City Council to Congress. Tell us about that.
Madalene Mielke: Basically, it is our leadership training academies. We do regional trainings throughout the country, so that we can help people who are interested in running for office in their locality. And then, give them the skills to better understand all of the campaign skills that they need, so that they can do that on a local level. And then we can help advance them as they continue in their career trajectory as a public servant.
Ellee Pai Hong: You've seen success with the program.
Madalene Mielke: Yes. We have had five Asian American specifically Hmong Americans in the Minnesota State Legislature that were recently elected in 2018. They went through our training program, and Congressman Ted Lieu who when he was an assembly member also went through the program as an assembly member, and now he's a member of Congress.
Ellee Pai Hong: Wow. Wonderful work that you do. I appreciate you coming in and telling us all about it. Thank you so much.
Madalene Mielke: You're welcome.
Ellee Pai Hong: And thanks to you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your area and across the nation visit comcastnewsmakers.com.