Grace Meng, who earlier this week easily won the Democratic primary for New York’s newly-redrawn 6th Congressional District, thinks of herself as an all-American kid even if others didn’t always see her that way.
“Growing up as a kid in Queens, there weren’t really many Asians at all,” Meng says. “I remember one day my mom gave me dumplings to bring to school, and people were all like, ‘What is that? What is that?’”
Meng would have preferred peanut butter and jelly.
Nowadays, on the streets of her district in Flushing, Queens, she’s treated like a rock star. If Meng wins in November, she’d be the first Asian-American New Yorker elected to federal office.
“The Asian-American community has grown tremendously,” says Steven Choi. “They are [a] real force to be reckoned with both in the community sphere and also the political sphere.
Choi, the executive director for the Minkwon Center for Community Action, a non-profit organization in Queens that serves the growing Asian community, says that the Asian-American community — specifically in New York — has grown by more than 30 percent in the state and 30 percent in the city.
“That’s actually more than four times the growth rate of Latinos, for example, in New York City,” he says.
Meng decisively defeated two Democratic primary candidates who reflected the longstanding political makeup of Queens. One was a Jewish state legislator, the other an Irish-Catholic city council member.
The district she’s running in leans Democratic and she currently holds a massive fundraising advantage. But the general election between Meng and Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran is still seen as competitive.
Grace Meng’s family arrived in America in the late 1970s. She’s part of the growing number of native-born Asian Americans who straddle the immigrant and mainstream worlds.
“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,” Meng says. “Those are all big components in my life.”
This week’s primary results show that Meng has been able to appeal to people outside of her Asian-American base. She won with 51 percent of the vote. Whites and Asians each represent close to 40 percent of the district’s population, with Latinos accounting for the remaining twenty percent.
“This was an important win for our shared priorities and our shared understanding that what’s different about all of us here in Queens is nothing compared to what we all have in common,” she says.