Democrat Tulsi Gabbard gives her victory speech after winning Hawaii 2nd Congressional district seat at the Japanese Cultural Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Honolulu.
Tuesday’s elections brought two historic firsts for religion in American politics: A Buddhist senator and a Hindu representative — both from Hawaii — will join Congress.
Democrat Mazie Hirono beat former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), making Hirono the first Buddhist in the Senate. In Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard defeated Republican opponent Kawika Crowley, making Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress.
Both elections were cheered by Hindu and Buddhist Americans, members of two faiths that share a common history that traces back to ancient India.
“These are all signs of dharmic communities being accepted in the country,” said Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities. “It’s all about inclusion and acceptance. The feeling that my faith and my people are accepted. Ultimately, politics comes down to ‘how does it impact me?’ or ‘how am I included?’ It will mean so much for the upcoming generations of Hindus and Buddhists.”
Hirono, who was born in Japan, practices the Jodo Shinshu tradition of Buddhism. She was first elected to Congress in 2007 to represent Hawaii’s 2nd District, the seat that Gabbard won Tuesday. Prior to that, Hirono served 14 years in the Hawaii state legislature and was the state’s lieutenant governor for eight years. She is also the first Asian-American woman senator and the first senator born in Japan.
“I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty,” she said when she first joined Congress.