DYER – On more than one occasion, Chris Chyung had a front door slammed in his face while campaigning against state Rep. Hal Slager.
“They told me, 'Go back to China!'” recalled Chyung, who was born in Merrillville and raised in Munster. “I've never even been to China. My parents, who are both physicians, were born in Korea. So at least get your racism right.”
The 25-year-old political newcomer doesn't take such slights too personally.
“I've lived my whole life in Indiana, so I'm used to being the only Asian person in the room,” he said. “Any room.”
Chyung, who lives with his parents, beat Slager by 82 votes on Election Day in November. He earned more than 12,000 votes the hard way, by pounding sidewalks, meeting strangers, attending community forums.
“The notion that we could actually pull this off was unfathomable when we began,” he said.
Slager, a Republican from Schererville, served 10 years there as a town councilman and three two-year terms as a state representative. He had name recognition, General Assembly experience and a much deeper war chest of campaign donations.
But the young Democrat from Dyer simply out-hustled Slager, knocking on thousands of doors – sometimes the same doors three or four times during his campaign – while surfing a small blue wave of voters in the 15th House District, which covers Schererville, Dyer, St. John and parts of Griffith.
Chyung will become the first Asian-American state legislator in Indiana's history when the 2019 session begins Thursday in Indianapolis.
“It's absolutely an American success story,” he said. “Still, at the end of the day, it's all about getting business done for the state of Indiana.”
Chyung has been getting down to business by researching policy topics, drafting bills, meeting with interest groups and listening to constituents. He's been learning about issues as varied as child advocacy, Medicaid, taxation and daylight saving time.
He is already receiving calls and texts from constituents, asking about everything from potholes on their street to education reform.
“I've got a list of dozens of things to do before I take office,” he said. “I'm still digesting my victory. And so is my family.”
Chyung's parents arrived in this country during the aftermath of the Korean War, eventually landing in Chicago where they completed their medical fellowships. They later moved to northwest Indiana, where they still practice.
Chyung never planned on becoming a public servant or state officeholder. The Munster High School graduate, who leaned more conservative than liberal growing up, dabbled in real estate after attending college in New York City to become an industrial engineer. He's not married and doesn't have children.
In 2016, when national politics became the daily conversation, Chyung began showing an interest in local politics, eventually attending meetings of the Lake County Young Democrats.
“A lot of people feel their representative is not listening to them, and so did I,” he said.
Chyung tried suggesting that other Democratic candidates run against Slager, but no one stepped up.
“So I did,” he said with a shrug.