For the first time in over a hundred years, New Orleans has elected a non-Democrat to represent Louisiana's Second Congressional District in the U.S. Congress. But Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao breaks more records than this. Mr. Cao is the first Vietnamese-American to serve in the House of Representatives, and he joins just over a dozen Congressman who were born outside of the United States.
Anh Cao ran for Congress using his baptismal name, Joseph, which comes from his patron saint, St. Joseph the worker.
The son of a military officer, Anh Cao was born in 1967 in the suburbs of Saigon near a military instillation. When he was 8 years old, Cao fled the country for the United States
"I was separated from my family for many years," says Cao. "I came with my sister and brother. I was raised by an uncle, and my brother was raised by an aunt."
After Saigon fell to the Communists, Cao's father was imprisoned in a reeducation camp for six years. Cao wasn't reunited with his father until much later, when he himself was an adult. But nonetheless, Cao's father helped shape the choices of this 41-year-old lawyer turned politician.
"When I was nine years old I received a letter from my father written in the prison camps in Vietnam," says Cao. The letter said, "I'm sorry I cannot be with you. There are three things I want you to do: study hard, work hard, contribute to your community and country."
"That stuck with me since I was nine," Cao said.
Cao's hard work earned him a master's degree in philosophy from New York's Fordham University and a law degree from Loyola University. He currently serves on the boards of the Intercultural School and Mary Queen of Vietnam Church's Community Development Corporation, which is helping to construct a medical clinic, retirement center, community center, and an urban farm in New Orleans East.
Cao assisted in fighting the Landfill Battle in New Orleans East, and he is a member of national advisory council to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cao says his religious faith, informed by reason, will help him make good decisions for all of his constituents.
"I've had the privilege of being trained in Society of Jesus, working with people from poor to powerful. I believe that with that training I will be able to sit down and have constructive conversations with colleagues, and work across party lines to address the needs of the 2nd District."
According to Cao, top among those needs are promoting coastal restoration and economic development, as well as providing more efficient health care — both by supporting the planned LSU/VA Hospital and opening smaller community based clinics. Cao wants to expand governor Jindal's school voucher programs and continue the momentum of reforming Louisiana's political image.
And all of these issues, says the Congressman-elect, are vitally important to all New Orleaians.