Yuh-Line Niou (D) has officially started her historic term as the first Asian-American representative of New York City’s Chinatown in State legislature.
The Taiwanese immigrant was sworn in Wednesday as assemblywoman of the 65th Assembly District, which encompasses lower Manhattan. She had won the general election with more than three-quarters of the vote.
“Oftentimes the immigrant or Asian-American perspective is left out, whether it’s about poverty or labor or small business,” she explained to The Village Voice.
Adding that along with Assemblyman Ron Kim, “it’ll be very powerful to have our experiences as first-generation kids in the assembly.”
Niou’s win holds significance to many in her diverse district, where Asians make up more than 40 percent of the constituency. Sheldon Silver held the position for four decades, stepping down after he was convicted on federal corruption charges, the New York Times noted. While Alice Cancel, an ally of Silver’s, won the special election in April and served out his term, Niou then defeated her in the primaries and clinched the Democratic nomination.
Niou and her family immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when she was 6 months old. It was an experience she had in middle school involving a car that rear-ended her mother’s which served as a watershed moment for the new representative, she told The Village Voice.
“My mother was deemed partly negligent by the insurance companies. She got penalized because the other guy’s English was better,” Niou told the outlet. “There wasn’t anyone who was able to advocate for her. I thought if I could just communicate better, I could become someone who speaks up for people.”
The struggles her parents faced would eventually compel her to pursue a career in public service, her website notes. And in her victory speech, she even dedicated the win to her parents along with other families who are “working hard to achieve their own American dream.”
Niou ― whose campaign focused on affordable housing, jobs and economy, and immigration, among other issues ― explained to Vogue that the road to office hasn’t been easy. She’s faced bigoted comments based on her appearance and age, as well as concerns as to whether she’d represent her entire constituency as an Asian-American.
“Then, of course, the racist comments: We don’t want your kind here. You don’t represent me,” she told the outlet. “I had people yelling at my dad and my mom, saying go back to where you come from.”
In spite of the criticisms and bigotry, she’s still confident she was fit for the job, she told Vogue.
“I didn’t win because I’m an Asian candidate,” she told the outlet after the primaries. “I think I won because I’m the best candidate for the district.”
While Niou’s post is a win for Asian-American representation in government, there’s more work to be done. Currently, Asians make up 9 percent of New York State’s population and are a fast-growing demographic, accounting for 87 percent of the state’s population growth between 2000 and 2014.
However, Niou and Kim serve as the only two assembly members of Asian descent in the state, the New York Times points out.