New York Has No South Asian Elected Officials. Why?

The South Asian population in New York showed rapid growth over the last decade

The South Asian population in New York showed rapid growth over the last decade. (Photo: Sarah Kate Kramer)

The Asian population in the five boroughs spiked 32 percent in the last decade, and New Yorkers of South Asian descent had a lot to do with it. Numbers from the Census Bureau show that Indian American numbers alone skyrocketed 77 percent in Manhattan to reach 25,857, and in the city over all there are now 192,209 people who identify as Asian Indian. In the next few weeks we’ll have numbers on the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Nepali and Indo-Caribbean communities which have also been steadily rising. All of which raises an interesting question.

“It’s kind of mysterious to me that we don’t have a South Asian elected offical in New York. I find it puzzling because one could argue that all the factors are there,” said Sayu Bhojwani, founding director of the New American Leaders Project, an organization that trains immigrants to run for elected office.

There are segments of the South Asian community–particularly those in Manhattan–who are affluent and vote. Reshma Saujani, an Indian American with Wall Street experience who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney for Congressional District 14 in the 2010 midterm elections last fall, represented that constituency.

Listen to Sarah Kate Kramer discuss this issue on PRI’s The Takeway:

Other segments of the South Asian population, particularly in the outer boroughs, tend to be less politically active and more economically diverse. But with this spring’s redistricting opportunity, there’s a growing movement in Queens to redraw district lines in hopes that the South Asian population can increase its political power.

“There’s an incredible awakening that’s happening in the community right now. They don’t care if it’s an indian, Sikh, Bangladeshi, they just want to get someone elected who looks like them,” Saujani, the former candidate, said.

Part of that momentum is “Taking our seat,” a new group applying for non-profit status. The organization is focused on redrawing the lines of the 31st Assembly district in South Eastern Queens to create a ‘brown district.’ Their analysis of Census Bureau data showed that two of the highest density South Asian American census tracts lie within that district and four other high density tracts–which are split between four other Assembly districts–are located just blocks away. John Prakash Albert, the founder of the organization, maintains that shifting the district boundary six blocks north would not shift the political power balance in Queens, yet it would add almost 6000 South Asian Voters to the 31st–condensing the population.

“The intent is not to displace someone or to have a naked power grab–it’s just an identification of where people have naturally chosen to live, to make their homes. Ultimately it would give folks from our community a real choice at the polls,” said Albert.

For the rest of the article, go to It’s A Free Country.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.