May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In celebration, this Edition for Educators highlights some of the many stories published in Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900–2017, one of the Office of the Historian’s most recent publications (and online exhibits) which provides an overview of the diverse stories of Asian and Pacific Islander American (APA) Members and their constituents in the years since Hawaiian Delegate Robert W. Wilcox first won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. The story of Asian Pacific Americans in Congress can also be found across our website in other stories, artifacts, and House records.
Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900–2017
Published in May 2018, this series of essays and Member profiles covers the history of Asian Pacific Americans in Congress from the election of the first APA Member, Delegate Robert Wilcox of Hawaii, in 1900 to 2017. The first essay provides an overview of immigration to the American West, but focuses primarily on the Philippines and Hawaii in the wake of the Spanish-American War, or the War of 1898 as it is also called. The second essay works forward from World War II, discussing the unjust policy of Japanese internment in the early 1940s, Hawaiian statehood in 1959, and the election of the first APA legislators with full voting rights in Congress. The final essay covers the modern era of Asian Pacific American Members as they formed the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and took on new challenges. Included with this exhibit is a continually updated section on historical data, which features committee assignments, leadership positions, and related major legislation.
An insurrectionist who fought to restore the Hawaiian monarchy, and who was sentenced to death for treason, Robert W. Wilcox eventually organized a potent home-rule movement, won election as the new territory’s first Delegate, and became the first Asian Pacific American elected to Congress. A symbolic figure who embodied the complexities of managing the United States’ growing empire in the Pacific, Wilcox exercised limited influence on Capitol Hill. His focus on territorial politics, devotion to Native-Hawaiian concerns, and strong preference for Hawaiian independence were all hallmarks of his brief career in the U.S. House.
Dalip Singh Saund
In November 1956, D. S. Saund, who everyone simply called “Judge,” became the first person of Asian descent elected to serve as a United States Representative. He was a tireless champion of his southern California district and the farmers who called it home. But his unique backstory—born in India, naturalized U.S. citizen, successful businessman, county judge—also catapulted him to the international stage. During his career in the House of Representatives, at the height of the Cold War, Saund became something of a transcendent politician who had the singular ability to engage audiences abroad. Although he frequently confronted discrimination during his life in the United States, Saund maintained his belief in the promises of American democracy.
The Annexation of Hawaii
On June 15, 1898, by an overwhelming vote of 209 to 91, the House overcame an alliance of Democrats and anti-imperialist Republicans to approve Senate Joint Resolution 55 providing for the annexation of Hawaii as an American territory. Two years later, on April 23, 1900, Hawaii officially became a territory, and Robert Wilcox served as its first Delegate. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state.
The House and the Pacific Telegraph
On January 2, 1903, Members of the House of Representatives wired congratulatory messages to the Territory of Hawaii using the newly completed Pacific telegraph cable that stretched thousands of miles from San Francisco, California, to Honolulu.
Resident Commissioner Francisco Delgado of the Philippines Dies
On October 27, 1954, former Philippine Resident Commissioner Francisco Delgado died in Manila. Twenty years earlier, on August 22, 1934, following two terms in the Philippine house, the territorial legislature elected Delgado Resident Commissioner to the United States. Resident Commissioners at the time had limited legislative power. The rules of the U.S. House prevented them from voting or sitting on committee, meaning that Delgado spent the bulk of his time testifying before committees and lobbying key lawmakers and administration officials. Throughout his tenure, Delgado worked to build personal relationships and entertained colleagues at his home in Washington. Delgado served until the Philippines inaugurated a new commonwealth government on February 14, 1936.
Gwendolyn Mink — “Coming to Washington, DC”
Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink’s daughter Gwendolyn Mink recalls her family’s move to Washington, DC, after her mother was elected to Congress in 1964. She discusses the difficulties of growing up the child of an interracial relationship in the capital region.
What America Means to Me
Campaign biographies were part of American politics from the beginning, but when Dalip Saund published his in 1956, it was like nothing Americans had seen before. “The American people elected me to their Congress,” Saund wrote in this pamphlet, “Where else in the world could this happen?”
Patsy Takemoto Mink
A few months into her first term in Congress, Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii met with her staff in their Longworth Building office. The first woman of color elected to Congress, Mink served for 13 Congresses—first from 1965 through 1977, and then again from 1989 until her death in 2002. Her early years were marked by her support for President Johnson’s Great Society legislation and, later, her work on the Women’s Educational Equity Act.
Ben Garrido Blaz
In 1985, Ben Garrido Blaz became the second Delegate to represent the Western Pacific island of Guam in Congress. During his four terms in the House, Blaz led the push to make Guam a commonwealth of the United States. This photo from the Collection dates from the beginning of his service.
Japanese Internment Bill
The United States entered World War II in December 1941 after the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor. Two months later, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the exclusion of persons of Japanese descent from areas along the western seaboard. The order led to the forced removal of 120,000 men, women, and children to heavily guarded internment camps in isolated sections of the country. On March 17, 1942, the Committee on Military Affairs issued House Report No. 1906, recommending the passage of H.R. 6758, which gave teeth to the executive order by creating a “penalty for violation of restrictions or orders.”
Memorial of Queen Liliuokalani
When Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii assumed the throne in 1891, she inherited a constitution that had stripped the monarchy of its authority and placed executive power in the hands of a cabinet composed of non-native politicians and businessmen. After surrendering the throne under duress in 1893, Queen Liliuokalani struggled for the next several years to reinstate the monarchy and to restore the rights and customs of Native Hawaiians. When, in 1897, the United States annexed Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani and her fellow citizens petitioned Congress. This memorial, signed by Queen Liliuokalani on December 19, 1898, was her last attempt to return control of her homeland to Native Hawaiians.
Daniel Inouye Election Certificate
When a Member of Congress is elected, a certificate of election is issued by the state they are elected from and is usually signed by the governor and the secretary of state. This certificate of election is for Representative Daniel K. Inouye, who was elected on July 28, 1959, as the first Member of the House to represent the newly admitted state of Hawaii. Inouye was elected to the United States Senate in 1962, where he served until his death in 2012 as the longest-serving Asian-American Member of Congress.
Luaus to Lusitania
Following the annexation of Hawaii, Hawaiian Delegates and the territorial legislature frequently sponsored congressional delegations to the islands. These visits provided Members of Congress and executive branch officials with opportunities to acquaint themselves with the people, culture, and economics of the islands while enjoying the territory’s tropical amenities. In 1915, one such delegation’s journey quickly took on a singular focus as a ship sank half a world away.
Samuel Wilder King stands tall, looking directly into the camera. The Hawaiian Delegate’s eyes twinkle with pride. His open hand gestures to one star, in particular, on the U.S. flag behind him—the 49th star, at a time when there were only 48 states. Made by Hawaiian women in 1935, this unofficial flag showed the territory’s aspiration to become a state. In the 20th century, flags became symbols of Hawaii’s status in the offices of its Territorial Delegates.
House Select Committee Investigates Japanese Evacuation and Relocation
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese military attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, pulling America into World War II. In the wake of this attack, Members of Congress recommended to President Franklin D. Roosevelt a policy that became one of the darkest chapters in American history: the forced imprisonment and internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website’s Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory