Heard on the Hill

Asian American and Pacific Islander Capitol Hill Staffers to Watch

Six staffers talk about how to get more AAPI staffers on Capitol Hill

Linda Shim, chief of staff for Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., says, “In the Asian culture, as you are growing up, you are told to respect your elders. That conflicted a lot with being a staffer on the Hill.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, six Hill staffers from the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community spoke about how they got to where they are.

They shared experiences from their internships, mentoring other staffers, and what it’s like to be the only person who looks like them in a room. 

Moh Sharma, president of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, helped us identify the staffers.

Getting a foot in the door

Linda Shim, chief of staff to Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.: “I kind of put my law school plans on hold. Told my parents I was only moving to D.C. for a year. I just kept on moving up the ladder.”

Adam Carbullido, chief of staff to Del. Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam: “I applied for a staff assistant position in 2010, got it, and I’ve been with her ever since. And I’ve held basically every job in the office since then.”

[Congress Doesn’t Report Diversity Because It Doesn’t Have to]

Michael Inacay, communications director to Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii: “I started as an unpaid intern. And once I got here, I met a great network of people including members of [the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association] and [the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association] who helped me navigate the Hill and land a job.”

Rohini Kosoglu, deputy chief of staff to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.: “I started actually as a state intern … in Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow’s state office, which was great because I got to get a sense of how a state operation in an office works. That was my senior year. And then they offered me a position out here in D.C. as her mail room manager and I was like, ‘Yes.’”

Saat Alety, legislative assistant to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.: “Like many, I interned for a member of Congress right out of college, and three months after my internship, I got hired.”

UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Michael Inacay, communications director for Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, is photographed in Hart Building on May 21, 2018. (Photo By Sarah SilbigerCQ Roll Call)
Michael Inacay, communications director for Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, says “The Hill doesn’t look like the rest of America.” (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Daily challenges

Shim: “In the Asian culture, as you are growing up, you are told to respect your elders. That conflicted a lot with being a staffer on the Hill, which was to stand up for yourself. At one point, my boss had to pull me aside and say, ‘It’s OK if you’re more outspoken. It’s OK if you want to share your opinions. I want to hear from you.’”

“I just try to be as confident as possible and try to be an example to some of the younger staff coming up as well.”

Krystal Ka’ai, executive director of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus: “This goes to the work that I do just on a daily basis on behalf of the caucus. We’re here to advocate and represent a traditionally underrepresented community on Capitol Hill. I think people still perceive this particular population as a model minority.”

[Success Stories: Creating a More Diverse Capitol Hill]

Carbullido: “We have to work extra hard to get our points of view across. I’m also gay and that had presented its own unique challenges in getting accepted. When I first started on the Hill, I wasn’t very comfortable with that, either.”

Inacay: “I’m fortunate to work in one of the most diverse offices on the Hill but once I step out of my office, it’s pretty clear that the Hill doesn’t look like the rest of America.”

Kosoglu: “I think that in most rooms that I’ve staffed, all of my members that I’ve worked for, there’s not a ton of people that look like me, certainly, and you get used to that.”

[Black Women Movers and Shakers on Capitol Hill]

More diversity

Shim: “It’s just giving people the confidence that this is a world that they can be a part of and a world that they can be productive in and can contribute to. This world sometimes feels very foreign. … It’s not something that your parents ask you to do as you’re studying and coming up. They usually stress being a lawyer or a doctor.”

Inacay: “Pay our interns. … I’d like to see more kids from my hometown, from the Filipino community up here on the Hill and paying them would be a really good start.”

Kosoglu: “I definitely try to prioritize if any women, particularly women of color … just want to meet to talk about how to move up on the Hill or they’re interested in working on the Hill.”

Alety: “The important word is ‘pipeline’ and I think it is not only an obligation but a responsibility and, quite frankly, a privilege that AAPI staff that are up here should be consistently reaching out to their communities.”

Ka’ai: “We need to be more intentional about promoting diversity on Capitol Hill. There are still instances where I walk into a room and I am the only AAPI staffer and my boss, [CAPAC Chairwoman] Judy Chu, is the only AAPI member in the room.”

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