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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Sen. Tammy Duckworth

By May 30, 2023No Comments

“I was hurt in service for my country. I was proud to go. It was my duty as a soldier to go, and I would go tomorrow.”  -Tammy Duckworth 


Sen. Tammy Duckworth

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re recognizing the economic, cultural, political, social, and scientific contributions of influential immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America.

Today we focus on Thai American Senator Tammy Duckworth, who in 2012 became the first disabled female veteran voted into the U.S. House of Representatives and, in 2016, became the second female Asian American ever to win a U.S. Senate seat.

Tammy Duckworth was born in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968. Her mother, Lamai, of Chinese descent, and father, Franklin, of British descent, moved the family to a handful of countries due to Franklin’s work with refugees for the United Nations.

They lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, and Hawaii. Franklin, who retired from the U.S. armed forces with the rank of Captain, served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The family moved to Hawaii during Tammy’s teen years. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii, a Master’s in international affairs from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in human services at Capella University’s School of Public Service Leaders.

Duckworth initially enrolled at Northern Illinois University to pursue a doctorate in Political Science. While attending, she entered the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with the National Guard, training as a Blackhawk pilot. She left school in 2004 when she deployed to Iraq, where she flew combat missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Later that year, a rocket-propelled grenade hit a helicopter that Duckworth piloted. She lost both her legs and the full use of her right arm in the attack. After her injuries, Duckworth was promoted to major and received a Purple Heart. She spent her year in recovery championing improved medical care for wounded veterans and their families, testifying twice on the issue to Congress.

Duckworth’s work for wounded veterans galvanized her political career. Following recovery, she took a position as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, where she developed a new program that gave employers tax incentives for hiring war veterans. She’s also credited for establishing a first-in-the-nation 24/7 veterans crisis hotline.

From 2009 to 2011, she served as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, focusing on homeless veterans.

In 2012, Tammy Duckworth won her U.S. Congress bid, becoming the first-ever disabled woman in the House of Representatives. As a member, she served on several committees, including Armed Services, Oversight, and Government Reform. In 2016, Duckworth was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the second female Asian American to win a seat in the upper chamber.

On April 9, 2018, Duckworth gave birth to her second daughter, Maile Pearl, making her the first senator to give birth while holding office.