© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Asian And All-American: A Political Star Rises In N.Y.

The seat Grace Meng holds on the New York Assembly was once held by her father, Jimmy Meng.
Bebeto Matthews
The seat Grace Meng holds on the New York Assembly was once held by her father, Jimmy Meng.

Earlier this week, Taiwanese-American attorney Grace Meng won the Democratic primary for New York's newly redrawn 6th Congressional District. She says she thinks of herself as an all-American kid, even if others didn't always see her that way.

"Growing up as a kid in Queens, there weren't really many Asians at all," Meng says. "I remember one day, my mom gave me dumplings to bring to school, and people were all like, 'What is that?'"

Meng says she would have preferred peanut butter and jelly.

Nowadays, on the streets of her district in Flushing, Queens, she's treated like a rock star. If Meng wins the general election in November, she'll become New York City's first Asian-American member of Congress.

The Growing Population

The Asian-American community has grown by more than 30 percent in New York State — and 30 percent in the city, says Steven Choi of the nonprofit Minkwon Center for Community Action in Queens.

"That's actually more than four times the growth rate of Latinos, for example, in New York City," he says. "They are [a] real force to be reckoned with, both in the community sphere and also the political sphere."

Meng decisively defeated two Democratic primary candidates who reflected the longstanding political makeup of Queens. One was a Jewish state legislator, the other an Irish-Catholic City Council member.

The district she's running in leans Democratic, and she holds a massive fundraising advantage. But the general election between Meng and Republican City Council Member man Dan Halloran is still seen as competitive.

A Larger Community

Meng, whose family arrived in America in the late 1970s, is part of the growing number of native-born Asian-Americans who straddle the immigrant and mainstream worlds.

"I'm proud to be an Asian-American, but I'm just as proud to be a woman [and] I'm just as proud to be a parent," Meng says. "Those are all big components in my life."

This week's primary results show that Meng has been able to appeal to people outside of her Asian-American base. She won with 51 percent of the vote. Whites and Asians each represent close to 40 percent of the district's population, with Latinos accounting for the remaining 20 percent.

"This was an important win for our shared priorities and our shared understanding," she says. "What's different about all of us here in Queens is nothing compared to what we all have in common."

Copyright 2020 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit WNYC Radio.

Colby Hamilton