A group of New York legislators have launched the state’s first ever task force to focus on issues that disproportionately affect Asian-Americans.
Carl E. Heastie, the state’s assembly speaker, announced the formation of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus (APALC) last Thursday at Flushing Townhall in Queens. At the state level, the group will address issues such as the fact that Asian-Americans have the highest rate of poverty in New York City.
“This is a milestone moment. It’s historic,” Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou (D), who founded the group with fellow assemblymember Ron Kim (D), told HuffPost. “This is going to be a dedicated group of legislators who are focusing on Asian-American issues. This has never happened before in New York State.”
One of the group’s goals will be pushing for disaggregated data on Asian-Americans so legislators can identify the unique challenges subgroups face. Niou is sponsoring Assembly Bill A7352 to tackle the issue. She said that she sent her colleagues an earlier HuffPost report to garner support for the measure. A legislative committee in the New York State Assembly recently approved the bill unanimously, and now the measure awaits passage by lawmakers.
““This is a milestone moment. It’s historic.””
With the many more challenges the state’s Asian-American constituents are facing, Niou said this task force is necessary for the community.
“It’s about recognizing that we have a voice ― that we need a voice.” Niou said of the minority group.
Niou and Kim are currently serving as interim co-chairs of the task force. The caucus will eventually include other legislators who represent districts in which Asian-Americans make up more than 10 percent of the population, Niou explained. Together, they plan to prioritize a number of issues such as poverty and mental health. Many of these issues have rarely been addressed, as they’ve been masked by the model minority myth, she pointed out.
That’s why the passage of A7352 will be so important to the task force. Disaggregated data is necessary to depict the needs of the community accurately, Niou said.
Oftentimes data on Asian-Americans treats the group as a monolith. Instead of acknowledging the diverse experiences of the minority’s subgroups, published data usually shows the averages of the entire minority, ultimately overlooking the Asian-Americans who are struggling, experts say.
The minority group is up against many little-discussed challenges in New York City alone. Asian-Americans have consistently had the highest poverty rate compared to other races, with almost one in four seniors living under the poverty line. And when it comes to mental health, senior Asian-American women have the highest suicide rates compared to other races.
“Just because a group of people suffer in silence doesn’t mean they’re not suffering,” Niou, who is the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown in state assembly, said of the little-known disadvantaged members of the minority group.
In addition to the concerns of their constituents, the caucus also aims to advocate for more diversity and Asian-American representation in government. Asian-Americans make up about 9 percent of the state’s population. Yet, Niou and Kim remain the only assemblymembers of Asian descent ― less than one percent of the state’s legislature.
For Niou, representation is important. As an immigrant who grew up in the public school system and came from a low-income family, she says she understands the struggles of many Asian-American families. She’s lived it.
“That’s my background and I share a history with a lot of people in the country,” she said. “In many ways, my district is a reflection of me.”
Already, the formation of the caucus has incited praise from constituents and lawmakers alike including Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY). The legislator expressed her excitement over the task force and applauded the progress that has been made within the community.
“When I served in Albany, there were not enough members to form such a caucus since I was the only Asian American in the entire state legislature. I’m happy to see that this has changed since I left for Washington four years ago.” she said in a press release. “I’m confident that this new and historic caucus will address the needs of Asian Americans throughout the state, and help further empower New York’s Asian American community.”