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The Changing Face of Congress

The lawmaking branch of the U.S. government is more diverse than ever.

By Tricia Culligan

The U.S. Congress made history on January 3, 2017 when the new session started. It is the most diverse (made up of people who are different from each other) group of lawmakers ever elected to the U.S. government.

Congress is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, with a total of 535 members. Overall, the new Congress will include more African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans than ever before.

RECORD-BREAKING SENATE

Women hold 104 seats, or positions, in Congress. Of the 100 senators, a record 21 are women. Among them is the first Latina senator, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, whose grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico.

She will be joined by Kamala Harris of California. She is the first Indian-American, and only the second black woman, ever elected to the Senate. (Harris’s mother was born in India, and her father is from Jamaica.)

Meanwhile, voters in Illinois chose Tammy Duckworth as their new senator. Born in Thailand, she is the first Thai-American senator. Duckworth is a U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs when a helicopter she was piloting was shot down in 2004 during the war in Iraq.

THEN AND NOW

Congress has changed a lot since it first met in 1789. Back then, all its members were white men. Women and African-Americans didn’t even have the right to vote.

Yet Congress still doesn’t truly reflect the U.S. population. For example, more than half the country is female, yet women make up less than 20 percent of Congress. Cortez Masto says she’ll work to change that.

“I will use my seat at the table to fight for diversity,” she tweeted.

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