The March 20th Illinois Primary elections were historic for the South Asian American community in Illinois. Not only were there numerous South Asian American candidates running for positions in all levels of government, but for the first time in Illinois history, a South Asian American candidate will serve in the Illinois General Assembly. Ram Villivalam won the Democratic primary election contest for Illinois Senate District 8 (51.3%), which includes Devon Avenue, the West Ridge community, northwest Chicago and surrounding suburbs including Lincolnwood, Niles, Morton Grove, Skokie, and Glenview. No Republican candidates are contesting Villivalam in this senate district. Villivalam, President of the Indo-American Democratic Organization and a lobbyist for Service Employees International Union Healthcare, brought together a broad coalition of groups to oust an incumbent, who had been in office for nearly 20 years and received funding from the Senate leadership. Ram garnered the endorsements of U.S. Representatives Schakowsky, Schneider, Gutierrez, and Quigley.
Other South Asian Americans who will advance to the general election or are currently leading in the primary race include Ketki Steffen (D) for the Cook County 13th Judicial Subcircuit (uncontested) and Ravi Raju (D) for Cook County Board District 15 (currently ahead at 50.07%). Both candidates are contesting in areas that have typically elected Republican candidates.
Other South Asian Americans who ran in the IL primary elections include Dilara Sayeed (D) for IL House District 5 (27.3%), Sameena Mustafa (D) for U.S. House District 5 (23.9%), Sapan Shah (R) for U.S. House District 10 (29.8%), Neill Mohammad (D) for U.S. House District 16 (27.1%), Bushra Amiwala (D) for Cook County Board District 13 (26.5%), and Rishi Agrawal (D) for the Cook County 8th Judicial Subcircuit (21.5%). In the U.S. House District 8, incumbent Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) and JD Diganvker (R) ran uncontested in their respective primaries, and will face each other in the November 2018 general elections.
This upsurge in South Asian Americans running for office in Illinois demonstrates the growing presence and power of the South Asian American community. As of 2015, there were approximately 270,000 South Asians in Illinois (Census, ACS, 2015). This includes tremendous growth from 2000 to 2010, when South Asians were the fastest growing ethnic group in Illinois, growing at 55.6% (SAAPRI, South Asian Americans in Illinois: Making Data Count, 2013). In 2010, South Asian Americans also made up over 10% of the population of IL Senate Districts 8, 23, and 28, and of IL House Districts 16, 56, 44, 15, 45, 41, and 46 (SAAPRI, South Asian Americans in Illinois: Making Data Count, 2013). In a field traditionally dominated by men, a significant number of South Asian American women ran for office, which demonstrates the increased motivation of our community’s women to become more involved and make an impact. The higher number of South Asian Democratic party candidates reflects larger national trends in party affiliation, with 74% of South Asian Americans identifying with the Democratic party in 2016 (Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “The South Asian American Vote,” 2017).
Our representatives have the power to make decisions that will impact the day-to-day lives and the future of our community. South Asian American voter participation is crucial in the races for Illinois General Assembly and Illinois Governor as we turn our attention to this year’s general election on November 6th.
Image retrieved from facebook.com/ramforsenate. Ram Villivalam declares victory in 8th State Senate District race.