Brooklyn’s Chinese-American community, the fastest growing immigrant community in South Brooklyn, is continuing to mobilize and it is just a matter of time before the borough elects their first Chinese-American to a legislative position.
That was both the message and the mood Sunday night as the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club (NYCAADC) celebrated the Lunar New Year at the Golden Imperial Palace Restaurant, 618 62nd Street in Sunset Park.
“Being Asian-American is not always easy especially with some of the things coming from Washington right now, but it’s not just from Washington. Even the state and city government still needs a little bit of knowledge and diversification,” said special guest former Comptroller John Liu, who in 2001 was elected to the city council, becoming the first Asian-American in New York State elected to a public office.
“I decided to run for city council a long time ago. It was 1996. I was on the subway, going to work and I take out my newspaper and right on the front page my council member – and this was 1996, not 1956 – said something like ‘Asians are nothing more than rude merchants, illegal aliens and criminal smugglers.’ These were the exact words, not something obscure or said in an out-of-the-way meeting but on the front page of the New York Times. It ruined my whole day, and shortly thereafter, I decided I couldn’t just complain about it, I had to do something about it, and so the following year, 1997, I ran for city council,” said Liu.
Liu implored the many young people at the event to get involved.
“All I have to say to all the Asian-American activists here is you have to step up and run for office yourself or get on the campaign. Do something that is going to further the community. It’s never going to be convenient for you. You have your job. You have your career. You get married. You have your house. You have babies. Life goes on, but that doesn’t excuse you from having to do something for your community,” said Liu.
Among those at the event was Assemblyman Peter Abbate Jr. (D-Borough Park, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst), a 32-year member of the assembly who has seen his 49th Assembly district grow to where it is now 50 percent Asian-American.
Accompanying Abbate was his longtime community liaison, Irene Chu, who is also the president of Abbate’s home political base, the Stars and Stripes Democratic Club.
Chu, along with Democratic District Leader Nancy Tong, who works for Assemblyman Bill Colton (D-Bensonhurst, Bath Beach) in the adjoining 47th Assembly District, are the two most prominent Asian-Americans working in local politics, but both are unabashedly loyal to the longtime bosses.
“My job as president of Stars and Stripes is to educate the younger generation to become more involved and try to raise their political power and their voice. They want someone to represent them from the community, and my job is to educate them and help them,” said Chu. “I work for Peter and there’s my loyalty.”
Chu further said that Abbate is very generous to the Asian-American community and helps fund a number of Asian-American non-profits both large and small that work in the community. If it’s just the need to elect somebody that looks like them then it’s a racist attitude, because Peter does a very good job, she said.
NYCAADC President Kenneth Chiu, who was born and raised in Dyker Heights, said it was 50/50 on whether it will take an Asian-American from the outside such as Liu did when he ran for the city council or people who come up through the Democratic Party ranks to finally get elected as a Brooklyn Asian-American. It could be someone like Chris Miao, the young lawyer, who came out of nowhere and ran against City Council Member Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) last year, Chiu said.
“There are folks that are fed up with the status quo who are told to wait, wait, wait, wait, and when is that wait going to be over,” said Chiu.
“For now, we just have to recruit more people and keep pushing for what our people in the community need like school programming, safety, senior housing and affordable housing. These are major needs all over South Brooklyn.”