RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Asian-Americans are now the fastest growing racial group in the U.S. That means they are also the fastest growing group of voters. So this next story is in a sense of glimpse of the future in which Asian-American political power may grow.
Right now only two congressional districts are majority Asian-American. One is in Silicon Valley here in California. That's where two Indian-American candidates are running to unseat a longtime incumbent, Japanese-American Congressman Mike Honda.
NPR's Hansi Lo Wang of NPR's Code Switch team.
MAI XUAN NGUYEN: Hello.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: In the heated race for a congressional seat in northern California, Mai Xuan Nguyen fights for her candidate with another cold call.
NGUYEN: (Foreign language spoken)
WANG: It's all part of her shift at a Vietnamese-language phone bank for Ro Khanna, an Indian-American lawyer who's challenging a Japanese-American congressman. Yeah, only in America.
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ROHI KHANNA: Like so many Californians, I'm the son of immigrants who came to America...
WANG: Ro Khanna is one of two Indian-American candidates in the race and the only Democrat trying to oust one of Capitol Hill's most prominent Asian-Americans.
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE HONDA: My name is Mike Honda. I am a proud Sansei Democrat and a Silicone Valley congressman.
WANG: And a 72-year-old, seven term congressman. He's speaking there at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Honda's age is an issue in his campaign against Democratic challenger Khanna, a 37-year-old former Obama administration official. But for many voters here, the choice will mainly fall along ethnic lines.
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WANG: Before this year's Miss South Asia beauty pageant in Milpitas, some local residents mingled by the bar and buffet, including Sangeeta Narayan, a San Jose resident who's watching the race closely.
SANGEETA NARAYAN: Go Ro Khanna.
WANG: You sound like a very big Ro Khanna supporter.
NARAYAN: Yeah, we do support Ro Khanna, actually. He brings fresh energy into the tech valley that we are engaged with.
WANG: Noryan recruits executives for tech companies in Silicon Valley. She says many in the local Indian-American community are rallying behind Khanna.
NARAYAN: Seeing somebody from your own community, I think it's pretty exciting.
WANG: It makes a difference.
NARAYAN: It makes a difference if they can relate better to it.
NITIN ANAND: Since we kind of share the same background, we might get a little bit better representation in government.
WANG: Nitin Anand, who lives in Fremont, says he's not going to miss a race with Indian-American candidates, a scenario that was hard to imagine when he was growing up in the Bay Area in the 1980s.
ANAND: Most everybody thought we were like snake charmers and cow worshippers, right. And as I grew older, they started thinking we're cab drivers and 7-11 owners. And as I grew older still, got into college, we were software developers, and now we're, like, doctors and lawyers.
WANG: And aspiring politicians in the congressional district that also happens to have more Indian-Americans than any other in the nation.
AJAY BHUTORIA: So let me take you around the Fremont city.
WANG: For almost a decade, IT consultant Ajay Bhutoria has lived in Fremont. Here you can order curry pizza, topped with chicken tikka or palak paneer. But Bhutoria isn't necessarily going to vote for a politician of Indian descent. He says he's voting for Congressman Mike Honda for his long tenure in government.
BHUTORIA: This experience, which has come from years of fighting in the Congress, is very important.
WANG: Pretoria says his support for Honda hasn't been a popular position within the local Indian-American community.
BHUTORIA: I have friends who won't talk to me. I had people who had bullied me just because I'm supporting Congressman Mike Honda. I could understand their side of emotion, but at the same time, democracy is all about your personal choices, whom you support.
DEEPKA LALWANI: I think it's a very healthy debate. Why should all Indians think alike anyway?
WANG: That's realtor Deepka Lalwani, who is president of the Milpitas Democratic Club. She's voting for Honda, but she says...
LALWANI: The greatest result of this would be not who won or who lost but people got involved.
WANG: Which would be no small feat in an Asian-majority district. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian-Americans are among the least likely to vote in midterm elections. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News.
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