Q&A: Why Redistricting Matters to APAs

Last month, AABANY announced that it joined ACCORD, the Asian American Community Coalition on Redistricting and Democracy.  We reached out to James Hong, Civic Participation Coordinator at MinKwon Center for Community Action, the lead organization behind ACCORD, to tell us more about what ACCORD is all about.


MinKwon (James Hong): We are a group committed to APA and minority communities’ opportunity to meaningfully participate in the political process.  Such opportunity is fundamentally changed by the results of redistricting, which completely re-organizes boundaries of districts, and hence creates the population that will be voting in elections. 

A: Why does redistricting matter to the APA community in New York?

M: Redistricting matters to all communities, ethnic and otherwise.  However, APA communities – and the enclaves in which they live – face a history of having their neighborhoods gerrymandered and thus having their voters split into multiple districts.

APAs living in ethnic enclaves are routinely divided into several adjacent populations/districts so that they constitute only a minority of those districts, when they could easily be the majority population of a single district.  Therefore, hundreds of thousands of APA voters often cannot exert the power of their numbers, even though – and this is the real point here – numbers are the foundation of democratic government, where the will of the many is supposed to be expressed in the political process.

I believe one reflection of this is that despite the APA population being 13% in NYC – meaning 1 out of 8 people is an Asian American – there is not a single State Senator or Congressman that is APA (overall, only 1 in 50 of the elected officials representing the city’s various districts are APA), and less than one-quarter of 1% of public spending goes toward Asian or Asian-led social service organizations.  While ACCORD is not promoting APA candidates, these discrepancies are revealing.

A: How can the APA community learn more about redistricting?

M: This guide has been a good reference for me: http://www.advancingequality.org/attachments/files/410/Impact_of_Redistricting_in_YOUR_Community_2010.pdf.

And if you aren’t aware of what your own district looks like, use the NYC GIS to see how the lines are currently drawn (click “Show Additional Data on Map” module on right side of page):  http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/

For the legally-minded, this page focuses on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its relevance for redistricting:  http://www.publicmapping.org/what-is-redistricting/redistricting-criteria-the-voting-rights-act

A: What is ACCORD doing now to educate the APA community about this issue?

M: We are holding educational sessions at various community organizations, in English, Chinese and Korean.  If you or your organization are interested in hosting a meeting, please contact ACCORD at [email protected] or James Hong at the MinKwon Center for Community Action (718-460-5600).  We can come out and do a 15-minute presentation to your group and have Q&A.

A: What is ACCORD doing now to advance the cause of redistricting for the APA community?

M: Each of the ACCORD member organizations plans to give public testimony in the upcoming public hearings on redistricting.  This is the first of two rounds of hearings, with each borough having one hearing each round.  We will be focusing on bringing both testimony and constituents to the Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan hearings, for both rounds.  All first-round hearings begin at 10am and the locations/dates are as follows: 

  • Queens is on Wednesday, September 7th at Queens Borough Hall, Meeting Room 213-1&2, 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens; 
  • Brooklyn is on Tuesday, September 20th at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn; 
  • Manhattan is on Wednesday, September 21st, in the Assembly Hearing Room at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.

If you would like to get more involved with ACCORD, let us know at [email protected].

BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

NAPABA Trailblazer award winner Gary Locke, former governor of Washington and recently U.S. Secretary of Commerce, took his new post as U.S. Ambassador to China on August 17th. People on the Internet, especially in China, took note that he toted his own backpack and bought his own coffee. “Took note” may be too casual a phrase –  “observed in shock and awe” would be more accurate. While a small proportion wondered how someone as high-ranking as Locke could not have an entourage, the majority approved of his humility.

I have a lot of admiration for people who carry their own bags, or who as one of my storied professors said, “don’t drop their briefcase and run”.