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Uncommon Thinkers: Marilyn Strickland

Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives

By Annie Midori Atherton April 3, 2024

An official portrait of Marilyn Strickland smiling in front of an American flag.

This post is sponsored.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

“Uncommon Thinkers” is a partnership between Greater Seattle Partners and Seattle magazine that showcases Seattle’s innovative and ambitious Korean American community. 

When Americans tuned in to see the swearing-in ceremony for the U.S. Congress on Jan. 3, 2021, they witnessed something unprecedented: a newly elected representative wearing a hanbok, a traditional South Korean garment.

That official was U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland, a Democrat representing Washington’s 10th Congressional District, which includes the largest military installation in the Western U.S.

On that day, Strickland became one of the first Korean American women ever elected to Congress — a distinction she shares with two other women elected that year. She is also the first Black official to represent Washington state at the federal level. Her clothing held both personal and historical significance.

“I wanted to send a clear message about the United States of America belonging to all of us, in all of our cultural and ethnic glory,” Strickland says. “And I also wanted to highlight my Korean American heritage and how proud I am of it.”

Born in Seoul, Strickland moved to Tacoma as a child when her father, an American serviceman, was stationed at what was then known as Fort Lewis. She went into management at Starbucks, and later served on the Tacoma City Council.

“In many ways, when you belong to an underrepresented group, you have a responsibility to represent because so many people worked so hard to open doors and give you the opportunity,” she says.

Two years later, Strickland was elected mayor of Tacoma, becoming the first Black woman and the first Asian-born person to hold the position. As mayor, she prioritized education, and the high school graduation rate in Tacoma rose from 55% to more than 90% during her tenure. In 2018, she became president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Two of Strickland’s important congressional assignments are her roles on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Armed Services Committee.

Supporting the armed services and veterans is a priority for Strickland, whose district includes Joint Base Lewis–McChord, the largest military installation in the Western U.S. and the largest single-point employer in Washington state. The base plays a key role in the region’s economy, while supporting U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

Strickland is keenly focused on affordable housing, public transit, support for caregivers, and strong infrastructure.

“Access to good jobs, access to good benefits, and the ability to retire with dignity,” she says, “are fundamental to having strong communities.”

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