Besides being the first Republican from Hawaii elected to Congress in 20 years, U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is the first person of Thai ancestry to serve in Congress.
The White House historian’s office recently confirmed that Djou is the first Thai-American U.S. representative, according to Daniel Son, Djou’s press secretary.
Djou’s mother is from Bangkok. His father is a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong.
The former city councilman won 40 percent of the vote in a special election May 22 to fill the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Neil Abercrombie.
Although his father, Sih-Kong "S.K." Djou, couldn’t attend the swearing-in ceremony, his mother, Suchitra "Sue" Djou, stood tearfully next to him as he took the oath.
"My mom was extraordinarily humbled when I took my oath," Djou said. "She didn’t say very much at all. I think she was awestruck."
Born and raised in strife-torn Bangkok, she is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
"She had an amazing journey," said Djou.
Ben Sudtha Komenkul, president of the Thai Association of Southern California, said his organization is proud that someone of Thai heritage has been elected to such a high post.
"We’re very excited about that," he said.
Thais in Los Angeles, estimated to number 150,000 to 200,000, are the largest Thai community outside Bangkok, he added.
"It’s a very significant step," Komenkul said of Djou’s election. "He is someone who is a role model, who represents all Asian Americans as well as Thais."
Prakong Dodt, president of the Thai Community Association in Hawaii, which represents more than 100 Thais, said, "They’re very glad, so proud … we’ve never had this before. It was exciting that somebody half-Thai was elected to be such a VIP. We’re behind him 100 percent. We’re talking about campaigning for him in November."
In the last census, there were 1,259 people of Thai ancestry and 2,284 of part-Thai ancestry in Hawaii.