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.

AABANY: What is ACCORD?

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 accord.newyork@gmail.com 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 main@aabany.org.

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”.

U.S. Patent 8,000,000 Issued

U.S. Patent 8,000,000 Issued

Thomas Tang Moot Court Competition 2011

Thomas Tang Moot Court Competition 2011

So, What Now?: Perspective from a Recent Law Graduate

It’s been two and a half weeks since I sat for the New York bar exam.  Everyone says that the bar exam is the most terrifying moment of a young lawyer-to-be’s life, and I have to agree.  The bar exam took over my life.  For two and a half months, I couldn’t help but constantly repeat black letter law in my head over and over again. 

For some recent law graduates in my position—that is, recent graduates without a job—the bar exam was not only terrifying because it could make or break our career, but also because it was the end of certainty.  For the past three years, law school pampered us:  we knew exactly what our next step was going to be, whether it was a new semester of classes or some form of summer internship.  Even after graduation, the bar exam was an excuse to postpone determining the next step in our lives.

But now that the bar exam is over, it was time to face reality.  In this economy, many recent law graduates, and even current law students, feel the pressure of taking any job that they can get.  Instead of focusing on their lifetime goals, the economy pressures them to take the first job offer that comes their way. 

I felt that same pressure.  During my second-year of law school, I was fortunate enough to get a summer associate position at a reputable law firm in Virginia.  The firm was great, the attorneys served as wonderful mentors, and the experience was amazing.   At the end of my internship, the firm had offered me a full-time position—something that I was extremely fortunate to get.

But whether to accept the offer was probably one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make.  I felt a lot of pressure from my colleagues and my school’s career services to take the offer.  While, on the one hand, I recognized that taking the firm job in Virginia would probably be a good decision in the short-term, on the other hand, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in the long-run.   I always knew that I wanted to end up in NYC, especially after having interned there during the summer of my first-year of law school.  After thinking long and hard about what I wanted in my legal career and where I wanted to practice, I turned down the offer.

Admittedly, it has not been easy to look for a job in this economy, but I don’t regret my decision.  I have seen so many of my classmates get lost in what they are “supposed” to do that they often forget what they want to do.  I think, if some of them were to pause and take a step back, they would realize that this is just one bump in the road.  After all, many of us will be practicing law for at least thirty years, and this economic downturn will prove to be just a small blip in our long career.  

NYCLA Task Force Reports on Judicial Budget Cuts

The New York County Lawyers’ Association and its Task Force on Judicial Budget Cuts has issued its Preliminary Report on the Effect of Judicial Budget Cuts on New York State Courts.  Read the press release here and the report here.  A similar report on the Federal courts in New York will be coming out shortly.