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Korean American woman elected to US Congress for first time

Marilyn Strickland, Congresswoman-Elect for Washington’s Tenth Congressional District, poses with her mother. (Strickland's campaign website)
Marilyn Strickland, Congresswoman-Elect for Washington’s Tenth Congressional District, poses with her mother. (Strickland's campaign website)


Marilyn Strickland, the former mayor of Tacoma, Washington, won her race for the US House of Representatives, becoming the first Korean American woman elected to the US Congress in its 230-year history. 

Democrat Strickland won the open seat in Washington’s 10th Congressional District, defeating state Rep. Beth Doglio, who is also a Democrat. They were competing for the seat held by US Rep. Denny Heck, who stepped down to run for the state’s lieutenant governor. 

“I am humbled and honored by the trust the people of the South Sound have placed in me to be their voice in the United States Congress. I want to say how grateful I am to all those who have stood alongside me in this journey. From the bottom of my heart: Thank you,” Strickland said in a statement Wednesday in the US after her win. 

Strickland added that she is proud to be the first African American elected to Congress from the Pacific Northwest, which includes Washington, Idaho and Oregon, as well as the first Korean American woman to serve in the US Congress. 

Strickland, whose Korean name is Sun-ja, was born in Seoul in 1962 to an African American father, a World War II and Korean War veteran, and a Korean mother. The two met while her father was stationed in Korea after the war. Strickland and her family moved to Tacoma in 1967 after her father was dispatched to Fort Lewis. She graduated University of Washington and earned an MBA from Clark Atlanta University. 

Previously, she was the first African American and Asian American to serve as mayor of Tacoma, from 2010 to 2018. Most recently, she served as the CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. 

In a previous interview with the University of Washington Magazine, Strickland shared that she learned resilience and patience from her Korean mother. 

“I think about the strength of my mother, coming to this country as an immigrant, and I want to emulate her resiliency, patience and toughness,” she said. “Whenever I think things are too hard for me, I think about the sacrifices she made so I could do this job.”

Strickland said she is eager to represent a Korean American community that often is ignored on topics like immigration and trade, during an interview with Seattle’s local NBC affiliate, on Wednesday. 

“The ability to travel back and forth to get visas, to find ways to find paths to citizenship for Korean adoptees here, those issues are very important,” she said. “We want to make sure we have fair and free trade … because a lot of people who are here in the United States, who are of Korean descent, travel to Korea and have relationships there.”

She has vowed to tackle the pandemic, create more jobs in the region, fight for affordable health care and address climate change, among other priorities. 

Strickland joins Democrat Andy Kim, who has been reelected in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, in representing Korean Americans in the US Congress. 

Meanwhile, Republican Young Kim, who is running in California’s 39th Congressional District, is in a tight race in a rematch against the incumbent Democrat Rep. Gil Cisneros. She was leading at 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent, with 90 percent of votes reported. If Kim, who was born in Incheon, wins, she will enter with Strickland as the first Korean American women to serve in the US Congress.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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