Chennai-born Rep. Pramila Jayapal becomes first South Asian American woman to chair US House of Representatives

Chennai-born US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal held the Speaker’s gavel on June 5, making her the first South Asian American woman to preside over the US House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.

Jayapal, 53, a Democrat from Washington state, took to Twitter to share a clip of her session where she was seen presiding over the House as a temporary speaker.

In the text that accompanied the clip, Jayapal, who was first elected in 2016, wrote, "Today, I became the first South Asian American woman to preside over the US House of Representatives. Beyond proud to serve in the most diverse Congress in our nation's history and to hold the gavel today."

The 116th Congress broke records with women and lawmakers crossing racial and religious barriers, including an all-time high for Asian American lawmakers.

A record number of 17 Asian Americans serve in Congress, with 14 in the House and three in the Senate.

Although Nancy Pelosi has been serving as the Speaker of the House of Representatives since January 2019, members of the majority party in the House periodically take turns to temporarily preside over the chamber.

Before entering electoral politics, Jayapal was a Seattle-based civil rights activist, serving until 2012 as the executive director of OneAmerica, a pro-immigrant advocacy group.

Described by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “a rising star in the Democratic caucus,” Jayapal currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and serves on both the Judiciary and Budget Committees.

Rep. Jayapal was born in Chennai, and was raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She immigrated to the United States in 1982, at the age of 16, to attend college. She earned her bachelor's degree from Georgetown University, and an MBA from Northwestern University.

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