Panel talk on engaging Asian-American voters 1

Forest Hills Asian Association founder Edwin Wong, left, moderates a panel discussion on how to better engage Asian Americans living in Queens and across the city.

Asian Americans make up more than 15 percent of New York City’s population, but only 14.9 percent of registered Asian voters cast ballots in last year’s citywide election.

That’s a problem the Forest Hills Asian Association would like to fix.

The newly formed group held an hour-long panel discussion at Bramson ORT in Forest Hills on Monday, with Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and other Queens political experts sharing their ideas on how to engage the Asian-American population living in Forest Hills and throughout Queens.

FHAA founder and discussion moderator Edwin Wong began the night by asking Koslowitz how to inspire someone of Asian descent to vote, with the longtime elected official saying the best way is to dive headfirst into community issues.

“The best thing you can do is become involved in the community. Go to different functions, whether it’s civic groups or community groups,” Koslowitz told the group of a dozen Asian-American attendees. “That’s how I got involved. You get a good feeling of what’s going on in the community.”

The other panelists included Michael Favilla, chief of staff to state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing); Richard Lee, director of management and budget for Borough President Melinda Katz; Sandra Ung, special assistant to Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Manav Nanda, constituent liaison for Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).

They attended simply as citizens with political experience, not in their capacity as employees of elected officials. However, all four said that volunteering for political campaigns are great ways for Asian Americans to get involved and informed.

“[Opportunities] are a lot more common and available than people realize,” Nanda said. “Just keep an eye out and you’ll pick up on something that catches your interest.”

Lee, an Asian American himself, said older individuals make up a sizable portion of the 32 percent of Asians not affiliated with a political party in New York City because of old stigmas attached to certain political ideologies in their home countries.

“Countries in Asia, they’ve gone through a lot of political turmoil and change,” Lee said. “A lot of people in different countries were prosecuted for being a certain political party. So when they emigrated here, they kept that same mentality so they didn’t want to identify as being a Republican or Democrat.”

Favilla agreed with Lee’s point, saying an average of only about 15,000 people vote during primary season in Stavisky’s district, while over 175,000 Asian Americans live in the state senator’s district.

Koslowitz ended the panel discussion by saying voters and nonvoters alike need to know the amount of influence they really have in city politics.

“You can influence us by voting,” she said. “You have control over us if you go out and you vote.”

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