Poised to Make Political Mark Asian-Americans Aim for Bigger Role in Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Amy Boerema Daily Herald Staff Writer

The political arena has long eluded them.

While Asian-Americans in DuPage County have made their mark in business, education and health care, they haven't found the same success on the political scene.

But now they say that is starting to change.

A new group called the Asian-American Caucus of DuPage is hoping to break down the doors to what some call the traditionally exclusive DuPage political arena.

The group's ultimate goal, leaders say, is to boost the number of Asians running for and holding elected office and serving on advisory boards. The organization will be a resource for towns to help diversify their civic participation, founder Moon Khan says.

Its first event is a "Getting to Know Us" candidates forum that will be at 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Xilin Asian Community Center, 1163 E. Ogden Ave., Suite 300A, Naperville.

Roughly 20 candidates and elected officials have confirmed their participation, including U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert and state Sen. Kirk Dillard. Sixth Congressional District Republican candidate Peter Roskam also will be there, though there has been no word from his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth.

Candidates will discuss housing, jobs and business opportunities.

"In DuPage County, politics are still managed by one group in terms of race," Khan said. "We have to break the glass ceiling, and that's what this organization is all about."

Under-represented

The Asian-American community in DuPage continues to swell. Asians make up nearly 8 percent of the county's population. Naperville, Carol Stream and Oakbrook Terrace are all at least 10 percent Asian; Glendale Heights is 20 percent Asian.

Census figures show in most DuPage towns, the average household income of Asian-Americans exceeds all other ethnic groups.

"(This) community is very educated and very economically successful," said Joshua Hoyt, director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, "and they're extraordinarily under-represented in all levels of political office."

Currently, only three Asian-Americans hold an elected office in DuPage: Khan, born in India, is a York Township trustee; Kenneth Moy, born to Chinese immigrants, is a circuit judge; and Asif Yusuf, born to a Pakistani immigrant, is an Oak Brook village trustee.

Asian immigrants don't have a long history of political participation. Leaders say many face language barriers or are uncomfortable with the American political system.

"Asian countries have a long history of all being under somebody," said Linda Yang, executive director of Naperville's Xilin Association. "They didn't have much belonging or ownership of a community."

It's also hard to find a leader who can effectively represent the entire Asian community, leaders say. With various subgroups, from Asian-Indian to Japanese, all of which have different religions and cultures, the community doesn't have a cohesive identity, Khan said.

Culturally, Asian-Americans generally haven't viewed political positions and their low pay as desirable.

"This (caucus) is a young group that would like a piece of the American dream," said Moy, 73. "Politics is a piece of that dream. It has cost me a lot of time and personal finances to try to get a piece of that dream. I don't think (many Asians) are in a position to expend the fortune and family resources they have to get to those positions."

Growing numbers

Even so, in recent decades, Asian participation has slowly grown.

In 1984, Moy became the county's first Asian board member, ultimately serving three terms. Philippines immigrant Ben Fajardo, who was village president of Glendale Heights from 1994 to 2001, was the first minority to lead a DuPage town.

In April 2005, Khan and Esin Busche, a Naperville Township trustee, were believed to be the first Muslim Republicans elected to public office in Illinois. …