Redistricting offers Asian-Americans a political opportunity to gain fair representation – NY Daily News.
Redistricting — the redrawing of political district lines — takes place every 10 years, after new Census data are released.
Elected officials and political insiders pay close attention to this arcane process of map-drawing, because they understand well that new district lines could result in major shifts of political power.
As civil rights advocates, we see redistricting as the once-in-a-decade chance for communities of color to secure political influence that is commensurate with their numbers.
New York City’s changing demographics, fueled by rising immigration, will now provide Asian-Americans a real opportunity to gain fair representation through redistricting.
The federal Voting Rights Act requires that Asian, black and Latino residents have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Districts must not be drawn to dilute minority voting strength or intentionally disenfranchise minority voters.
For those who question the continued need for such voting rights protections, consider this: no Asian-American has ever been elected to the New York State Senate or U.S. Congress.
While Latinos are the largest minority group, constituting 29% of the city’s 8.1 million residents, Asian-Americans grew 32% over the past decade to over 1 million, or 13% of the population. In fact, almost half a million Asian-Americans live in Queens, where our community grew 300 times faster than the rest of the borough’s population. Together with 2.2 million black residents, or 26% of the city’s total population, communities of color are now the new majority.
Current district lines have been major barriers to Asian-American political participation. For example, the Korean-American community in Flushing is divided in half between two senate districts. Chinese-Americans in Bensonhurst are currently split into three assembly districts and four senate districts. Worst of all, the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean community in Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park are fractured into six different state assembly districts.
When communities with common interests are not kept together in the same district, residents cannot organize effectively to advocate for the issues most important to them, such as fighting for living wage jobs, preserving affordable housing units, curbing racial violence in public schools, or getting Asian-language access to health care.
Given what is at stake, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund joined forces with the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the National Institute for Latino Policy to develop a “Unity Map.”
We didn’t wait for the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment to present its own district plans, which historically have been tailored to keep incumbents in office. Instead, we drew new district lines based on “communities of interest,” which are recognized under the Voting Rights Act and extend beyond race and ethnicity.
In the 1996 redistricting case, Diaz v. Silver, a federal court in New York accepted our assertion that Chinese-Americans in Manhattan’s Chinatown and Brooklyn s Sunset Park were a community of interest that should be kept together within the same congressional district.
The court found that working class residents shared a common language, lived in similar types of housing, used the same subway lines and health clinics, and got their news from Chinese-language media.
These shared characteristics made this neighborhood a real community of interest.
While Asian-Americans historically have faced voting barriers and discrimination, our goal is not solely to get more minority candidates elected. Instead, we want to ensure that districts are drawn so that voters can join together to elect their preferred candidates, regardless of race and ethnicity.
In a time of political gridlock and heated partisan rhetoric, our multi-racial effort to reach consensus on district lines should be viewed as a model for cooperation in our diverse city.
Our Unity Map would make significant advances toward achieving fair representation for the city s communities of color. It includes four Asian-American majority state assembly districts (compared to one), and one new majority state senate district in Flushing/Bayside (where there were none).
The number of Latino majority assembly districts will increase from 13 to 16, and the number of senate districts will rise from five to seven. Because of a decline in African-American population, the number of black districts will remain the same.
If new district lines for state assembly and state senate reflect our growing numbers and keep our communities of interest together, all New Yorkers will be better served by a more inclusive democratic process.
Margaret Fung is the executive director of the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Should legislative redistricting create state senate and congressional districts capable of electing an Asian American candidate? Leave your response below.