It’s a new day for Brooklyn’s Asian American community, which now has its first formal political club: the New York City Asian American Democratic Club (NYCADC).
Even more exciting: Sunset Park and Bensonhurst are well-represented in the group’s executive committee, which is comprised almost exclusively of five of southern Brooklyn’s most visible and experienced Asian American advocates.
“In launching the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club, we are addressing the need for a citywide democratic organization that pushes for the priorities of Asian-American communities,” explained NYCADC President Kenneth Chiu, a Bensonhurst resident and Chinese-American. “We are starting a conversation with our neighborhoods on the issues that matter most to them and we will advocate for Asian-Americans to become more empowered in New York’s political and government processes.”
Second Vice President Murad Awawdeh of Sunset Park, who is also president of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, added that the group has a goal of Pan-Asian — not just East Asian — representation.
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“We started with voter drives and realized it wasn’t enough. The way the Asian community is spread out in New York City, we want to be as broad as possible, across Sunset Park, Bensonhurst, Park Slope, Gowanus, the Lower East Side, Flushing, Southeast Queens, and elsewhere,” he explained. “I feel my role is to facilitate other Asian group’s participation. So Korean, Pakistani, Chinese. . . everyone.”
That focus on coalition-building across cultures also extends to Brooklyn and the city’s Latino and Hispanic community. This is evident in the NYCADC’s broad base of political support among existing city and state elected officials, from former Comptroller John Liu and Congressmembers Grace Meng and Nydia Velazquez to Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Peter Abbate, and Councilmembers Menchaca and Mark Treyger.
The NYCADC has five founding members — Chiu as president, Jimmy Liu as first vice president, Awawdeh as second vice president, Mon Yuck Yu as treasurer, and Weber Leung as secretary. All five of them have, at one point or another, worked as aides or liaisons to Ortiz, Menchaca, and/or State Senator Jesse Hamilton.
The trust and exposure to the issues that they’ve built over the years helped to fuel their decision to form the NYCADC and the support they are getting now.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while and there is a lack of Asian American representation, especially female,” said the board’s sole, yet by no means unequal, female founding member, Mon Yuck Yu, who used to work with AM Ortiz’s office and now serves as founder and executive vice president of the nonprofit Academy of Medical and Public Health Services, based in Sunset Park.
“Most Asian American females in politics are liaisons. We want to step up and represent the communities we are a part of, empowering them to pursue their dreams and be more engaged, whether they are Chinese, Korean, or Bengali,” Yu said. “Sunset Park is a community where so many people are not able to represent themselves, especially in the healthcare system. We want to let them know they have a voice.”
The political club comes as the city and country experiences a wave of discourse about race relations and political activism in communities of color.
“Any time we can get people involved in politics is good. We need to empower people in the community,” said Abbate, who represents the 49th Assembly District, which covers Bensonhurst and Sunset Park.
“We’re going to tell [Republican presidential front-runner Donald] Trump, we don’t need to make America great again because we make America great,” exclaimed Velazquez to the crowd at the NYCADC’s launch party in Sunset Park’s Park Asia Restaurant on April 7. “22 percent of the U.S. population is Asian American and Latino American populations. We need to protect immigrant rights and voting rights!”
The group currently has around 500 members; membership costs $25/year and seniors get a discount at $15/year. RAised funds go towards educational events and field trips to government lobbying days, voter education, and informational pamphlets about election day and other issues.