In historic election, Asian-American participation in Flushing is business as usual

Congressional candidate Grace Meng’s campaign materials are printed in three languages.

My classmates and I spent a chilly election day reporting across New York City. I headed to Flushing, Queens, where I spent the day interviewing voters and following a Congressional candidate who might make history tonight. Read this article–and coverage from across the city–at our blog, Election Day 2012.

Some have called it the year of the Asian voter, but in Flushing, Queens—a community known for its strong voter turnout—Nov. 6 is just another Election Day.

In the neighborhood’s crowded business district, which flows on Main Street between Northern and Kissenna Boulevards, awnings bear the occasional English phrase, but are printed primarily for Asian residents to read in their native languages.

Campaign signs touting the candidacy of Democrats Grace Meng and Ron Kim fill the windows of bakeries and convenience stores. A Starbucks employee stands on the sidewalk asking if passersby have voted.

“We’ve been packed since we opened up,” said Leola Wayne, coordinator of the polling site at Flushing House Residence for Adults. Wayne says she’s experienced roughly 10 elections from the perspective of a polling place staffer.

Across the room, voters avail themselves of Chinese, Spanish, and Korean interpreters.

Wayne says that though the neighborhood does seem particularly energized about this year’s election, in Flushing, strong voter turnout among Asian-Americans is not unique to 2012.

“People are energized because it’s a presidential election. I think they’re really concerned about who they get as president,” said Wayne.

First-time voters are energized to participate in their first election, said Joyce Anderson, who serves as coordinator along with Wayne.

Anderson and Wayne pause to give instructions to an Asian-American woman who has just registered to vote and is casting a ballot in a U.S. election for the first time.

Much attention, both locally and on the national stage, has been paid to the candidacy of Grace Meng, Democratic hopeful from the 6th U.S. Congressional District in Queens. If elected, Meng, who currently serves in the State Assembly, will be New York’s first Asian-American Congressperson.

On the morning of election day, Meng’s campaign headquarters on 37th Avenue in Flushing is packed with a steady stream of volunteers—primarily young Asian-Americans—collecting hand-cards and stickers printed in English, Chinese, and Korean for distribution near polling places around the district.

“There’s no denying her candidacy is historic,” said Austin Finan, the campaign’s press secretary.

But Finan cautions against tethering the candidate’s significance to her culture, noting that in June’s Democratic primary, Meng decisively carried votes throughout the entire district, in every demographic.

Meng has been vocal throughout her campaign about the need for increased female leadership in Congress, and in addition to support from small business owners, the labor sector, Mayor Bloomberg, and former mayor Ed Koch, she has been endorsed by Emily’s List and featured in Glamour and Marie Claire as a young female politician to watch.

“People are energized about her in Flushing (and) not just because of her Asian-American heritage,” Finan said. “The big thing for her is ‘Yes, I’m Chinese-American, but I’m a mother, I’m a woman.’ That’s the exciting thing for her.”

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