ORANGE COUNTY, CA — Two Korean American women made history in 2020's election, as Young Kim and Michelle Steel were voted in to represent California in two congressional seats in Orange County. Kim and Steel, both California Republicans, are the first two Korean American women to ever be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
A third Korean American woman, Marilyn Strickland, who is a Democrat from western Washington state, will also be sworn into congress in January.
Kim, 58, and Steel, 65, flipped the highly contentious seats red, reversing the Democratic control over Orange County's congressional seats that was gained in 2018.
The historic win for both women and Korean Americans could signify a way forward for the GOP in California and could help appeal to a wider demographic of voters in Orange County.
The two women celebrated their win on social media over the weekend.
“As an immigrant to America, I know that the promise of America is alive,” she said in the video on her Facebook page. "...Whoever you voted for in this election, I hope you know that regardless of any differences we may have, I will always work on your behalf and fight for you."
Kim, a former state Assemblymember from 2014 to 2016, unseated Democrat Gil Cisneros with 50 percent of the vote in the 39th District, which stretches from Anaheim Hills to Buena Park and includes parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. Kim previously lost to Cisneros in 2018, beating her by 3.2 percentage points, or 7,611 votes.
Kim reportedly received a congratulatory phone call from Cisneros, the Los Angeles Times reported. Cisneros also issued a statement after Kim gained 50.6 percent of the vote.
“I’m proud to have served my country in the U.S. Navy, and I’m proud to have served it again in Congress,” Cisneros said. “It’s been the honor of a lifetime.”
Kim was born in Incheon, South Korea, and was raised in Guam before moving to Hawaii. She later enrolled at the University of Southern California to earn a degree in business administration. Kim, mother of four, retired in 2016 and decided to pursue congress.
Steele, mother of two, is a chairwoman on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, has maintained a close relationship with Kim. Their children are close, and the two women parents taught at the same high school in South Korea, the LA Times reported.
"Such a privilege to represent Orange County with my dear friend..." Steele tweeted Sunday.
Steel defeated first-term Rep. Harley Rouda for Orange County's 48th District, winning 51 percent of the votes. She aims to fight for lower taxes, small businesses and COVID-19 relief in District 48, which spans from Seal beach down to Laguna Niguel.
This is only the second time in two decades that a Republican candidate in the state defeated a Democratic incumbent in congress, KTLA reported.
"My accent is part of my story, and I'm proud to be one of the first Korean-American women in Congress,"Steel tweeted Sunday. "It's time to make sure the American Dream is still achievable for all Americans."
Steel's father was a diplomat, and took their family from Korea to Japan, where Steel was raised. She immigrated to the U.S. at 19 to attend Pepperdine University, later earning an MBA from USC. Her husband, Shawn Steel, is the former chairman of the California Republican Party, who also served on the State Board of Equalization.
Ellen Ahn, the executive director of nonprofit Korean Community Services, told the Los Angeles Times that the wins by the two women are "are such a validation of the immigrant experience. Having a person who looks like you and having a seat at the highest level of government can be a game-changer. I hope they don’t forget the issues that affect people of color, and healthcare tops that list."