Meng first Asian American woman elected to New York Congress

Election Day yielded historical outcomes for New York, as Queens native Grace Meng was elected the first Asian-American to represent New York in the U.S. Congress.

Collecting 67 percent of the vote, Meng defeated Republican councilman Daniel Halloran, who collected 31 percent, and secured the seat to represent the newly created Sixth District of New York in Washington.

“I’m proud to be an Asian-American, but I’m just as proud to be a woman [and] I’m just as proud to be a parent,” she said in an interview with WNYC. “Those are all big components in my life.”

The New York Times’ map from of the newly created districts revealed that 38.1 percent of the residents in the Sixth District are Asian, much higher than the 7.7 percent Asian population for the rest of the state.

Because of the high Asian population in the district, Meng’s election comes as no great surprise to Jack Tchen, an NYU professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and founding director of the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.

According to Tchen, electing a Taiwanese-American to represent New York’s Sixth District is long overdue because of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which restricted immigration into the United States and its extension in 1917 to all Asians in the United States.

He added that the nature of the immigration laws now emphasizes professional preferences with higher educational, social and financial capital. Immigrants and their children have a high success rate if the nation’s immigration policy allows professional elites and those with money to invest.

“Grace Meng is someone who understands these issues and community issues,” Tchen said. “It’s an important voice for the region she represents, the education of the New York City and New York State delegation.”

“The U.S. Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States and the group least acknowledged and understood at this point,” Tchen added.

At NYU, the Asian population is 20 percent of the student body — a larger percentage than all other minority groups on campus — according to College Board statistics.

With the fast-growing Asian population in New York, NYU students said it is fitting to have an Asian representative in Congress.

Jesslyn Guntur, a CAS sophomore, said she is proud to see Asian-American involvement in the nation’s government.

“Seeing that all these leaders who are competing were Asian-American, I was glad to see that Asian culture is playing so much force right now, and it’s good to see that they’re winning,” Guntur said.

This news failed to surprise CAS sophomore Nicole Huang, who said Meng will bring as much of a change as any other member of Congress.

“It’s the 21st century, and the fact that people think I should be surprised or happy for this makes me feel more suppressed than I ever did,” Huang said. “I don’t think it’s important because I think people are making this a matter of appearance.”

Guntur agreed, as she also does not see any specific changes that Meng will bring about that a representative of another ethnicity could not carry out.

“Culturally, their actions and choices would still be the same,” Guntur said. “It’s for the benefit of everyone, not just one race.”

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 14 print edition. Kayana Jean-Philippe is deputy city state editor. Email her at kjeanphilippe@nyunews.com. 

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