A group of four South Asian community activists met with members of the press earlier this week to discuss the disparity in their schools and governmental offices, calling for political leadership and cultural recognition.
Sharon KhunKhun, a founding member with SEVA Immigrant Community Advocacy Project, said she has been encouraging community involvement in local politics for the last several years, and says her ethnic group is no longer in the minority.
“The kids growing up in Richmond Hill, their parents aren’t going to college,” KhunKhun said. “So they’re not out there saying, 'hey fill out this form or take this exam.' The information is just not coming to the community.”
Representing Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sikh and numerous other populations that make up their community in Queens, the panel of local advocates said while they have yet to choose their support for the upcoming re-election campaign, they are enthusiastic for what local attorney and activist Ali Najmi could bring to the table.
“Our community would love a candidate that looks like us, but everyone does, that’s human nature,” she explained. “But we have to also be objective to say, does this person have the skills?”
Muhammad Rashid, an owner of the Smart Academia at 165-23 Hillside Ave., a test prep establishment where the meeting was held, called out current Assemblyman David Weprin for being out of touch with his new constituents.
“We should have a representative from the south Asian community,” Rashid said. “There is almost zero, as you can see, but the Asian and South Asian communities are united.”
Rashid said that although Weprin recently announced plans to open his first district office in Richmond Hill, he said that his efforts were, “Too little too late.”
“The best thing is that, if a South Asian leader comes, and he becomes an Assemblyman of this district, that will be history,” he said. “Who does not want to be a part of history?”
Richmond Hill became part of the 24th District in the 2012 redistricting. A representative from Weprin’s office said they have been working hard to open an office in the community and are planning on doing so on June 8.
"This is a very diverse district, and I'm proud of my work representing every community and every ethnicity in our neighborhoods,” Weprin responded in a statement following the meeting. “I've been a leader in Albany on issues important to the South Asian community, opening the first-ever district office on Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill.”
He added that he has in fact long fought for all of his constituents.
“I've sponsored legislation to require schools to provide Halal food for students, spoken out against hate crimes and bias, and I've worked to make sure that no one faces workplace discrimination for wearing religious apparel, no matter what their faith,” Weprin said.
Sarabjit Sawhney, an accounting officer at Tax Raja Management Associates in Richmond Hill, said that while Rashid is just looking for a South Asian to represent the district, he plans to advocate for anyone who can do a good job.
“Our thought is more open, and if Weprin can come forward with a good proposal to make this community stronger, because he has a lot of experience and he is a very senior member in the community, then he should come with that plan,” Sawhney said after the meeting.