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Meet America's First-Ever Buddhist Senator & Hindu Representative

"...selfless action, spirituality, war, and serving God and humanity."

With all the angst and chaos surrounding the 2012 presidential campaign, some likely failed to realize the historical leaps and bounds made by two, newly-elected officials. Mazie Hirono is the Senate's first Japanese-born Asian-American; she's also the first Buddhist to hold a Senatorial position.

Then, there's Tulsi Gabbard, a newly-elected House member who is the first Hindu to serve in the House of Representatives. Both candidates, making historical markings, are Democrats who hail from the state of Hawaii.

U.S. Rep. Maize Hirono gives a victory speech at the Japanese Cultural Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Honolulu. Credit: AP

Clearly, both women's electoral victories are noteworthy. Considering that America is a majority-Christian nation, people of minority faiths securing congressional seats is certainly important to note. After all, as a nation founded on the premise of religious liberty, the rise of different faith traditions in government roles is intriguing.

Hirono's story is a particularly fascinating one. The Star-Advertiser has more about her life and her rise to political power:

Hirono is the first Asian-American woman, and only the second woman of color — after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill. — elected to the Senate.

The overwhelming victory is validation for Hirono, 65, who had lost the governor’s race to Lingle in 2002, and who has had to contend with doubts about her political strength throughout her career as a state lawmaker, lieutenant governor and congresswoman.

“I’m grateful that so many people put their faith and trust in me and our congressional delegation to do what’s right for Hawaii and to work closely with our keiki o ka aina Barack Obama,” Hirono said at the Democrats’ celebration at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.

As The Wall Street Journel notes, the 65-year-old congresswoman was born in Fukushima, Japan. She moved with her mother to the U.S. when she was just eight-years-old, later becoming a citizen in 1959. That same year, Hawaii, the locality she will represent in the Senate, officially became a U.S. state.

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard gives her victory speech after winning Hawaii 2nd Congressional district seat at the Japanese Cultural Center, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Honolulu. Credit: AP

In a profile last week, Religion News Service (RNS) introduced Gabbard to its readers. The nation's first Hindu House member, Gabbard will represent Hawaii's 2nd congressional district. RNS has more about the politician's background and her faith tradition:

Gabbard, 31, was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii when she was 2. In 2002, at age 21, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature.

The next year, she joined the Hawaii National Guard, and in 2004 was deployed to Baghdad as a medical operations specialist. After completing officers’ training she deployed to Kuwait in 2008 to train the country’s counter-terrorism units. [...]

Gabbard, whose first name refers to a tree sacred to Hindus, fully embraced Hinduism as a teenager, and follows the Vaishnava branch that believes in the Supreme Lord Vishnu, and his 10 primary incarnations. Her primary scripture is the centuries-old Bhagavad Gita, whose themes include selfless action, spirituality, war, and serving God and humanity.

Hirono and Gabbard showcase the diverse nature of some of the new individuals who were elected to Congress. Depending on political persuasion, one might disagree with their policy views, but comprehending how their faith perspectives color their actions in office will be a fascinating feat.

One last thing…
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