September 11 Digital Archive

Redistricting: the people of Chinatown try to create its history


Redistricting: the people of Chinatown try to create its history



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As redistricting only occurs every 10 years, Chinatowns residents want to ensure that new lines are

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Redistricting: the people of Chinatown try to create its history

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Xiaoqing Rong

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Sing Tao Daily

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Xiaoqing Rong

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As redistricting only occurs every 10 years, Chinatowns residents want to ensure that new lines are drawn in their best interests. In District 1, with wealthy areas like Soho, many feel that their issues are ignored and would be better served in a new district that included the growing Hispanic population on the Lower East Side. Others feel that Chinatowns lines should stay put.

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The redistricting only happens every 10 years. Ten years is enough for a generation to grow up. So redistricting is important to the interests of a whole generation, said Wah Lee, a staff organizer at the Chinese Staff and Workers Association (CSWA), when she called on Chinatown residents to attend the last round of public hearings on this issue. We have waited 10 years for the chance to change the improper district of Chinatown, Lee continued.

Occurring every 10 years, redistricting changes voting districts according to the updated census, so that people who have similar cultural, racial or religious backgrounds, and therefore similar interests, can be put into the same district. In the redistricting of 1992, some Chinatown organizations pointed out that Chinatown had different interests from the nearby wealthy neighborhoods. However, Chinatown was still put into District 1 with Battery Park, Tribeca and Soho.

The Downtown Redistricting Association, which includes the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the CSWA and other Chinatown community organizations, has submitted a proposal to the city councils redistricting committee. With detailed data of the population composition of Chinatown and nearby areas, the proposal asks to separate Chinatown from the current District 1 and combine it with the Lower East Side in a new District 2.

Stan Mark, a lawyer for the AALDEF, pointed out that because of the different financial status of Chinatown and the nearby areas in the same district, they all have different interests. But overpowered by its wealthy neighbors, Chinatowns interests have continually been ignored. At the same time, more and more Hispanic immigrants have settled on the Lower East Side. Being immigrants, Chinatown and Lower East Side residents understand each others situation very well. And its not hard to generate an elected official who could represent the general interest of this new district.

Wang Chen, a Chinatown resident agrees with Mark. Sometimes our concern and those of wealthy areas nearby are not only different, but totally opposite, Chen said. For example, said Chen, the garment factory is one of the traditional industries in Chinatown and the major financial source for many Chinese families. Chinatowns people try their best to reserve space for garment factories. But wealthy area residents hope that more garment factories will be demolished and want to erect luxury buildings in those spaces. How could we stay in the same district when our concerns make us like foes? Chen asked.

However, there is a different voice within Chinatown about the proposal of combining with the Hispanic neighborhood on Lower East Side. Margaret Chin, deputy executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, insists that keeping Chinatown in its current district will help elect a Chinese official in this district. Chin was one of three Chinese candidates for city council from District 1 in last years campaign. Although all three lost to Alan Gerson, the current District 1 city council member, Chin believes that next time, if Chinatown could agree on only one candidate, he or she would have big chance at winning. If you add up the ballots of the three Chinese candidates, it would be much more than Alan Gersons. So that means as long as Chinatown voters could concentrate their vote on one person, this person would definitely win, Chin said.

If Chinatown is combined with Hispanic voters on the Lower East Side, Chin added, Chinese candidates would have less of a chance of winning against Hispanic candidates because of the dominant number of Hispanic voters in the new district. I dont know what they call creating history. For me, to generate the first Chinese council member in Chinatown is to create history, Chin said.

Wing Lam, executive director of the CSWA, doesnt agree with Chin. How could you ask all Chinese voters to vote for the same candidate? Lam asked. If that were possible, I guess it would also be possible that all the non-Chinese voters would vote for the same non-Chinese candidate. Their ballot would still be more than yours, Lam said. We dont care what the racial background of the elected official is, as long as he or she could represent our interests fairly, we would vote for him or her.

On Dec. 3, the last round of public hearings on Manhattan districts will be held at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The Downtown Redistricting Association called for the people of Chinatown to go there and make their voices heard. The babies who are born now will be preparing for middle school by the next time of redistricting. This is your only chance to fight for their benefit on this issue, Lee said.

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“Redistricting: the people of Chinatown try to create its history,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed March 20, 2023,