Raja Krishnamoorthi never had any Indian-American role models in elected office to look up to as a boy growing up in Peoria.
But the Schaumburg businessman and attorney believes that by winning the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District seat on Tuesday, he could be that role model for his two sons and other American children of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent.
"I hope to serve as an example of what any South Asian-American boy or girl can achieve," Krishnamoorthi, 42, said Wednesday. "You can be anybody you want to be in this country -- which I always say is the greatest country in the world."
If elected to Congress in November, Krishnamoorthi will have attained the highest political office of any Indian-American in Illinois history. At least three Indian-Americans have been elected to Congress from other states, and two Indian-Americans have been elected governor elsewhere.
Krishnamoorthi said early statistics show greater than average voter turnout Tuesday among South Asians in the 8th District, which is centered in Schaumburg and includes portions of suburban Cook, DuPage and Kane counties.
"I hope that represents a turning point in their voting behavior in this district," he said.
According to U.S. Census data, Illinois had the fifth-largest Indian-American population in the country in 2010 at 188,328, most of them in Chicago and the suburbs. This was up from 124,723 in 2000.
The Chicago area had the second-largest Indian-American population of any metropolitan region in the nation, with 171,901 residents, second only to New York-Newark.
Krishnamoorthi believes his nomination represents another step in the political evolution of the Indian-American community. Just like Germans, Irish, Italians and Latinos before them, the group had to first establish itself economically before integrating civically and politically, he said.
"It's just an evolution and it happens over time," he said. "It happens with each group."
Kashyap Trivedi, a Schaumburg attorney who six years ago chaired the village's South Asian Integration Committee, said he sees a strong relationship between that committee's goals and Krishnamoorthi's primary victory.
"It's a very proud day for us, being an Indian-American," Trivedi said. "I had the good fortune to meet (Krishnamoorthi) on a few occasions. It's good to see the contributions he's made. He's not shying from his roots, but not relying on his roots. ... It's good to see a person of his character and background get to this point."
The committee Trivedi led was created to analyze and remedy the fact that Schaumburg's substantial South Asian population, which made up 10 percent of the village's residents at the time, were significantly underrepresented in civics and politics.
Elected officials from the suburban Indian-American community -- even Republicans -- see Krishnamoorthi's nomination Tuesday as a positive step in that regard.
"As an Indian, I'm very excited," said Nimish Jani, chairman of the Indian-American Republican Organization and a Schaumburg Township trustee. "It looks like he (Krishnamoorthi) has a promising future. I have a feeling Raja will be able to inspire."
Jani said he found his way to the Republican party because he found it more welcoming, and he sees the November general election contest between Krishnamoorthi and Republican DuPage County Board member Pete DiCianni of Elmhurst as "a fair fight between two very good candidates." South Barrington Village Trustee Hina Patel, another member of the Indian-American Republican Organization, said Krishnamoorthi is a positive representative of the Indian-American community.
She stresses, however, that any good government representative provides a voice for all constituents, not just one in one's own ethnic group.
Patel said her inspiration to run for the village board was to find a way for more young people to get involved in government. She recently was put in charge of the village's new youth committee, which aims to teach high school students the fundamentals of government, from taxes to the services they're meant to provide.
Although Patel doesn't believe her history as an immigrant from India is significant to her public service, she said her presence has reduced feelings of intimidation for residents with similar backgrounds who need to deal with village government.