Opinion: de Blasio Doesn’t Care About Asians

Since his campaign for the mayoral position in 2013, Mayor de Blasio has rarely made an appearance in Chinatown, writes Sing Tao Daily's Lotus Chau. De Blasio is pictured here during his public advocate tenure at Better Chinatown Society's Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 9, 2013. (Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons license)

Since his campaign for the mayoral position in 2013, Mayor de Blasio has rarely made an appearance in Chinatown, writes Sing Tao Daily’s Lotus Chau. De Blasio is pictured here in earlier days during his public advocate tenure at Better Chinatown Society’s Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 9, 2013. (Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons license)

[Editor’s note: Mayor de Blasio’s recent decision to add two Muslim holidays to the school calendar was not well received in the Asian community. Having hoped the mayor could fulfill his campaign promise and add the Lunar New Year to the school calendar too, Asians were disappointed at being left out. On March 13, a few elected officials whose districts have large Asian populations held a rally together with community leaders to urge the mayor to give the Asian holiday its overdue recognition.  

On March 14, Sing Tao Daily published a commentary by Lotus Chau, pointing out that Mayor de Blasio has largely overlooked the Asian community.]

Mayor de Blasio won the election by telling the “Tale of Two Cities.” After he took office, he established fighting for the underserved and minorities as the cornerstone of his administration. Yet Asians, who make up 13 percent of the city’s population, are clearly not the most important group in the mayor’s view. We may not even be in his view at all.

During his tenure, the mayor has never hosted any Asian-related celebration events. For the Lunar New Year, which just passed, he didn’t even send the Asian community a “Happy New Year” note, even though he doesn’t have to draft such a note himself. It seems Asians cannot expect the mayor to mend the gap between the “two cities” for us. The only thing we can do is fight for ourselves.

To list the Lunar New Year as a holiday on the school calendar has been a dream for Asians for more than 10 years. It was first proposed by Jimmy Meng when he was the State Assemblyman representing Flushing. And through relentless efforts by his successors Ellen Yong, Grace Meng and Ron Kim, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, as well as state Sens. Daniel Squadron and Toby Ann Stavisky, Albany finally passed a related law at the end of last year.

But the law only requires the city’s Department of Education (DOE) to consider closing schools if a holiday is likely to result in “a considerable proportion” of students being absent. It doesn’t require schools to be closed for the celebration. [Editor’s note: In 2015, the Lunar New Year fell during winter break.]

Over the past decade, China has been rising rapidly on the international stage. The giant Chinese population and its economic significance have prompted many mainstream cultural institutes including the Metropolitan Museum and Lincoln Center to host Lunar New Year celebrations to appeal to their Asian clientele. It’s hard to believe that the mayor hasn’t noticed.

Yet, the clearest memory of de Blasio in Chinatown was when he was a council member campaigning for the public advocate position. Back then he stood on a stage in the Grand Harmony Restaurant in Chinatown, together with John Liu who was running for comptroller and Margaret Chin who was running for the City Council. They held hands together and de Blasio joked with Chin that the difference in their heights — his 6 feet 5 inches versus her 5 feet — wouldn’t affect their communication.

But in recent years when political candidates vied to visit voters in Chinatown as their ballots have been increasing, the dark horse in the mayoral campaign in 2013 rarely set foot here. The only exception might be the time he briefly stopped by the Lin Sing Association where he entered and left through a backdoor.

The mayor launched Vision Zero, a major traffic safety initiative, after he took office. But he chose a spot on Delancey Street on the Lower East Side to hold a related press conference last summer when, right before that, three fatal traffic accidents occurred over two months in nearby Chinatown. Last February, the mayor agreed to attend the Lunar New Year parade in Flushing at the last minute. Then he almost missed it until he squeezed in, also at the last minute.

On March 4, he announced the addition of two Muslim holidays to the school calendar. He said there are already many public holidays on the school calendar now, and because of the state law’s requirement on the number of school days, there is no room for more. Asians react strongly on this.

Islam is the third biggest religion in the U.S. after Christianity and Judaism. Muslims make up 0.6 percent of the nation’s population. Only in New York, there are close to 1 million Muslims, including 100,000 students. Still, there are more Asian students than Muslim students in the city.

Now let’s talk about religions. Christmas falls during winter break for public schools, and Easter during spring break. These are smart arrangements to help dilute religions’ impact on public schools. Now the most religious school holiday is the Jewish New Year in September. And the two Muslim holidays are religious too. If the mayor worries that too many holidays can affect the academic progress of students, the holidays to be expelled from the school calendar first should be the religious ones. Religions, after all, are personal choices.

The Lunar New Year is nonreligious. Although it doesn’t carry noble messages like Memorial Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it does bring joy to more and more people. Judging by the number of people who celebrate the holidays, the time they have spent on getting them recognized and the popularity of the holidays in a broader society, the Lunar New Year should not be put behind the Muslim holidays.

Clearly the mayor was thinking politically when he made this decision. He hopes it can help him regain support from African Americans who have been drifting further and further away from him. And it works. Many African Americans who were disappointed by the mayor before now feel happy. Muslims, whose image was hurt by the extremists, are also happy for the respect.

De Blasio’s distance from the Asian community makes a sharp contrast with his predecessor Mike Bloomberg. The current mayor has said the former mayor is a billionaire who kept his distance from the general public. But during his 12-year tenure, Bloomberg attended the annual gala of the Chinese-American Planning Council more than once. He donated to and attended the annual gala of the Museum of Chinese in America every year. And he held a Lunar New Year reception and an Asian Heritage Month reception in February and May respectively every year. To Asians, Bloomberg seemed to care much more than de Blasio.

Among the high-level city officials in the de Blasio administration, there are few Asians, with notable exceptions such as Bill Chong, commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development, and Nisha Agarwal, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Undoubtedly, the mayor doesn’t care about Asians.

If Asians are not in the picture of the mayor’s “tale of two cities,” and Asians’ interests are not in his consideration, what can we do, except for fighting, roaring and praying for ourselves?


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