In Asian-Majority District, House Race Divides Calif. Voters : Code Switch The U.S. mainland's only Asian-majority congressional district sits in California's Silicon Valley, where two Indian-American candidates are trying to oust Japanese-American Congressman Mike Honda.
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In Asian-Majority District, House Race Divides Calif. Voters

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In Asian-Majority District, House Race Divides Calif. Voters

In Asian-Majority District, House Race Divides Calif. Voters

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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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.


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.


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.


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.


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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