Six state-elected officials from diverse Asian American backgrounds and regions recently traveled to Japan as part of the U.S.-Japan Council and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s 2019 Asian American Leadership Delegation (AALD) program. From December 7 to 14, the Delegation traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Tottori. They forged connections with Japanese leaders representing a range of sectors, including politics and government, business, nonprofits and more, sharing ideas and building networks that deepen the U.S.-Japan relationship and enable an exchange of ideas across borders.
The AALD Program, which began in 2014, welcomed six state legislators as part of its 2019 Delegation. As Asian Americans, the delegates’ roots included China, Japan, India, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, and four of them were visiting Japan for the first time. The Delegation included the following:
State Representative, Indiana House of Representatives
Chris Chyung represents District 15 in the Indiana House of Representatives. Elected at age 25, he is the youngest and first Asian American member of the Indiana General Assembly. Representative Chyung graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and works in real estate investment in northwest Indiana. He hopes to apply analytical thinking and bipartisan problem solving in order to create policies that move Indiana forward.
State Representative, Kentucky House of Representatives
Representative Nima Kulkarni and her family moved from India to Kentucky when she was six years old. Watching her parents live the American dream, she learned firsthand that you can achieve anything through hard work and belief in yourself. She also learned the importance of community and giving back.
In law school, she focused on helping the most vulnerable among us, completing hundreds of hours of community-focused clinical legal work, which underscored the power of the law to shape policies that promote accountability and empower our citizens.
She practiced immigration law for over a decade and became keenly aware of the enormous impact that laws have. Her desire to further policies that help Kentucky families led her to run for State Representative, and in 2018, she became the first Indian immigrant elected to the Kentucky General Assembly.
Elected office is a public service, and she strives everyday to be an informed, judicious voice for all Kentuckians.
State Assemblywoman, Nevada State Assembly
Nevada State Assemblywoman Rochelle Thuy Nguyen is the first democratic Asian American and Pacific Islander to serve in the Nevada Legislature. During the historic 80th session, she co-founded the first AAPI caucus in the state of Nevada. Assemblywoman Nguyen serves on the Judiciary, Health and Human Services, and Growth and Infrastructure Committees. During the interim, she serves on the Sentencing Commission, the Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, and the Committee to Conduct Interim Study of Issues Related to Pretrial Release of Defendants in Criminal Cases. When she is not in session, she is a criminal defense attorney. She earned her law degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During law school, she co-founded the Public Interest Law Association. She has lived in Las Vegas for 20 years with her husband and their two children.
State Representative, Washington House of Representatives
Representative My-Linh Thai immigrated to Washington state as a Vietnamese refugee with her family. She graduated from the University of Washington, School of Pharmacy and had served as elected School Board Director for five years and as the Vice-President of the Washington State School Directors Association. She is proud to be the first refugee elected to serve in the Washington State House of Representatives.
Representative Thai is a passionate education advocate who is committed to ensuring equity and access for all. This commitment springs both from the early support she herself received as a student, and as the parent of two children who currently attend Bellevue schools.
Representative Thai was appointed vice chair of the Civil Rights & Judiciary committee. She also serves on the Health Care & Wellness Committee, the Education Committee, and the Education Accountability Oversight Committee.
State Representative, Hawaii House of Representatives
Representative Kyle Yamashita represents District 12, Upcountry Maui. First elected to office in 2004, he has served in the State House of Representatives for fifteen years. He serves on the Finance Committee and oversees the Capital Improvement Projects budget. He is also a member of the Committees on Labor & Public Employment and Economic Development & Business.
On a regional level, Representative Yamashita has been a member of the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators since 2010. He became the Chair of this Caucus in 2014.
Representative Yamashita was a small business owner and general partner of the Super Stop stores and gas stations. His business experience motivated him to organize the Ohana Savers Group, to promote small Maui based businesses.
Representative Yamashita and his wife Karen moved to Maui in 1990 and raised their two sons there. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Upcountry Maui and continues to be active in the community.
State Representative, Wyoming House of Representatives
Mike Yin was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 2018 to represent the area of Jackson Hole covered by Wyoming House District 16. Representative Yin was born in Georgia to immigrants born in China and Malaysia. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon and received his B.S. in Computer Science.
After working as a software developer, he found a calling to be more active in his local community. In 2016, he helped candidates run for office, then in 2018, he was elected to be the first Chinese American legislator in Wyoming.
Representative Yin sits on the Labor, Health, & Social Services Committee and the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, & Cultural Resources Committee.
Delegates held meetings with government, business and civil society leaders throughout Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, including Ministry of Foreign Affairs North American Director General Kazuhiro Suzuki, Chargé d’Affaires Joseph M. Young, and members of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the Japanese Diet. They also met business representatives of Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation), Daikin and Kansai Keizai Doyukai, NHK journalist Aiko Doden, security and diplomacy expert Narushige Michishita, Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s Chairman Nobuo Tanaka and researchers with America Monitor, who specialize in American politics.
A unique aspect of this year’s program was a visit to Tottori prefecture, the least-populated prefecture in Japan at only 570,000 people. Delegates met with Tottori Governor Shinji Hirai, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs to learn from local communities how they are tackling challenges rural and small-town areas of the country are facing, such as an aging population and weakening local industries. The Delegation also participated in a Q&A session with students at Seisho Kaichi Junior and Senior High School to discuss the Japanese perception of the United States and American perceptions of Japan.
As part of the program, the delegates spoke at a symposium titled “Diversity in Leadership: The Journey of Asian American State Legislators in 2019.” Moderated by Nobuko Sasae, President of Nobuko Forum Japan, the session invited the delegates to discuss their experiences as Asian Americans who followed non-traditional paths into the political realm and offered their perspectives on the importance of diverse representation within the government in the United States. USJC president Irene Hirano Inouye also shared remarks at the symposium.