The Village Voice takes a look at what a white (presumably) candidate has got to do to tread the ethnic waters of the Big Apple:
Money talks, and the Wongs and Muhammads of this world are speaking louder in New York City politics. From 1989 to 2001, the number of contributions to municipal campaigns from those two surnames quadrupled as the population of Asians–a broad category that includes people from the Middle East to the Far East–grew faster than any other group in the city. Yet the ethnic calculus of this year’s mayoral campaign is still limited to blacks, whites, and Hispanics, according to the Marist and Quinnipiac polls, which report results only for those three groups, omitting a tenth of the city’s people.
Yes, merely a tenth. “For us, we’re still not that big,” says John Abi-Habib, a person of Lebanese descent and a vice chairman of the Brooklyn Republican Party, who helped found a Middle Eastern political coalition eight years ago, “but then we have over 50,000 registered voters in this city.” And that number is growing, partly as a reaction to negative fallout from September 11. “The last four years, we must have registered thousands and thousands of people to vote,” Abi-Habib says, “and they see the importance of it because they know their voice has to be heard.”
Despite the obvious cultural differences between the different groups of Asian immigrants in NYC, City Councilman John Liu of Queens says that they do share some basic things in common which might be addressed by a common overall strategy in trying to capture their votes:
Ethnic labels are crude by definition: You’re black whether you just flew in from Senegal or are descended from slaves shipped to U.S. shores centuries ago. Latinos include light-skinned Cubans and Indian-blooded families from Ecuador. But the categories make some sense if common concerns affect the people they cover. And while Asian and Middle Eastern New Yorkers care about failing schools, high rent, rats, and all the usual urban woes, they also worry about things that other groups needn’t fear.
“There are lots of issues that Asian Americans share,” said Liu, “one being the immigrant experience, being relatively recent immigrant arrivals. And Asians also suffer from a perpetual- foreigner syndrome, meaning that you could be a fourth- or fifth-generation Asian American but still somehow it’s difficult to believe that you’re an American. I get that: First they compliment me on my ability to speak English, and often I get asked, ‘Well, where are you from?’ and for some reason people refuse to take Flushing for an answer.”
The whole article has a bit of a slimy feel to it. I appreciate the fact that Asian Americans are becoming motivated to vote and that politicians are being forced to listen, but here it almost seems like a contest between the candidates to see who is more down with the “brown and yellow.” The idealist in me wishes they wouldn’t have to try so hard, but maybe we are at least a generation away from that type of city.