Historically underrepresented, Filipino-American candidates look toward Congress

Photo via ginaortizjones.com

By Agnes Constante/nbcnews.com – Congressional candidate Gina Ortiz Jones was deployed in Iraq when her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Ortiz Jones’ mother underwent surgery and chemotherapy — treatments she received because she had health care coverage — and has survived.

Health care saved her mother’s life, Ortiz Jones said, and it’s something she plans to advocate for in Congress if she is elected to represent Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. She is one of at least five Filipino Americans vying for a seat this election.

“I know how lucky she is to have had access to that,” Ortiz Jones said. “I know exactly what it’s like when your health insurance plan is ‘I hope you don’t get sick.’”

There is currently only one sitting member of Filipino descent, Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, according to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). Other candidates running include TJ Cox, Kenneth Mejia and Cristina Osmeña in California, as well as Jennifer Zimmerman in Florida.

UNDERREPRESENTED

More than 4 million Filipino Americans live in the United States, according to U.S. Census data, more than 1.6 million in California. But despite making up 1 percent of the U.S. population and the community’s centuries-long history in the U.S., the group’s representation in Congress has been sparse.

Prior to Scott, Congress saw at least one other voting member of Filipino descent in former Republican Rep. Steve Austria from Ohio, according to Krystal Ka’ai, executive director of CAPAC. Former Republican Sen. John Ensign from Nevada also claimed Filipino heritage, though he is not documented by the U.S. Congress’ Office of the Historian as having AAPI ancestry, Ka’ai added.

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