Asian American and Pacific Islander Women: Advancing Leadership in Congress

with Madalene Mielke of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies

A record 20 Asian Pacific American members were sworn into the United States Congress in 2019, yet no women were represented in this group.

Madalene Mielke of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies discusses her organization’s efforts to increase female AAPI representation in Congress.

Posted on:

Mar 02, 2020

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: Asian-Pacific Americans are among the fastest-growing demographic in the United States. However, only a very small percentage of them are in elected political office. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. Efforts are under way to increase the ranks of AAPI elected officials. Madalene Mielke, president and C.E.O. of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, joins me to discuss this. Madalene, welcome to our program.

Mielke: Thank you.

Hyland: A record-high 20 AAPI members were elected and sworn into Congress in January of 2019. However, none of them were Asian-American/Pacific women. Why is that?

Mielke: There are a lot of cultural and systemic barriers and challenges that AAPI women face, and a lot of that goes into how we recruit them to run for office.

Hyland: What are some of those barriers that you do mention? You said cultural barriers, for instance.

Mielke: So, for instance, we have the idea that Asian-American/Pacific Islanders are perpetual foreigners. They don't see us immediately as a part of the American fabric. And so being able to talk about our American background is important. And, also, people seem to think that Asian-American/Pacific Islander women don't have enough experience, even though they do a lot of work within private-public partnerships and community advocacy.

Hyland: You mentioned the perpetual foreigner stereotype. Exactly what does that mean, and why doesn't that apply to their male counterparts, as well?

Mielke: I think it mainly is a stereotype, something that's seen as an aesthetic. And when you look at an Asian-American/Pacific Islander, you tend to think of, "Where are you from?" And a lot of times that question is, "Well, right from here," or wherever, you know, congressional district that they currently reside. And so that is an issue that's faced amongst both our men and women. But specifically AAPI women have that challenge. Quite so.

Hyland: And, Madalene, what happens when women in particular are underrepresented in Congress and elsewhere?

Mielke: So, that's a perspective that we're not getting from having those elected officials at the table. And so Asian-American/ Pacific Islander women have different narratives and have different skill sets. And it's beyond just having knowledge of healthcare and education, which are stereotypically issues that are seen as women issues. So, you've got women who actually have backgrounds in commerce and foreign affairs. And so those are sort of the things that also need to be highlighted.

Hyland: The Asian Pacific American Institute released a report that examined some of the barriers that we just talked about. Tell us more about what you learned from the report that you did and what you can learn from it, or what we can learn from it, to move forward and get more women into office and elected.

Mielke: Absolutely. The results that came from the survey basically shows that regardless of political affiliation, an Asian-American woman who has the ability to show private-public partnerships, working as a community advocate, someone who's creating economic opportunity without any previous public-service experience, could be elected as governor of a state. And so that is incredibly important to let women know, that they don't need to have prior public-service experience to be able to run for elected office.

Hyland: Good point. And this has led to the Women's Collective initiative. Tell us about this initiative, as well, and how you change the narrative for Asian-American/ Pacific Islanders.

Mielke: So, we often have Asian-American/Pacific Islander women who are elected, but they might be the only person in their state. And so someone from Idaho is a state rep, someone from Kentucky is a state rep, and no one else really knows who they are because they're isolated in those states. And so the collective was really built to show that there was a support system for AAPI women to see that there are role models out there who've been successful and then to also connect AAPI women together so that they have mentors and others who they can talk to about best practices.

Hyland: And I understand you have trainings that you're going to be offering in the future and that you do every year to try to get more women into office.

Mielke: Yes, that's correct. We do regional leadership trainings. And we're very excited to see what happens in 2020.

Hyland: All right. Madalene Mielke, thank you so much for being our guest today. And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders from your community and across the nation, visit I'm Sheila Hyland.

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