Representative Grace Meng, who on Tuesday became the first Asian-American to represent New York in Congress.
Of all the ceilings that were broken through in Tuesday’s election results; America’s first gay senator, first wins for marriage equality at the ballot, legalized marijuna; Grace Meng’s own personal triumph was somewhat overlooked, as the 37-year-old became the first Asian-American elected to Congress from New York State.
“It’s very flattering,” said Meng, who spent Wednesday morning thanking voters at subway stops and other locations in the 6th Congressional District before getting back to work in her Assembly district office. “What’s impacted me personally is I’ve had a lot of younger girls – Asian and non-Asian – feel encouraged by this election. That is very touching for me.”
Meng defeated Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran in a bruising contest where race and ethnicity often loomed large.
“There were times in the general election where he made it about race and he made it personal and I don’t like to see it in any campaign,” said Meng, who noted she had a cordial conversation with Halloran after he conceded. “We tried to keep it positive.”
Halloran had claimed that Meng’s 6th District had been redrawn specifically to represent the growing Asian population in Queens. However, Meng’s ethnicity may not have made as much of a difference as her Party allegiance, Asians across America broke for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a huge margin of 73-26.
So perhaps the decisive characteristics are not in the Asian and Hispanic communities so much as in the Republican Party. The GOP is overwhelmingly white and insistently, at times militantly, Christian. Democrats, by contrast, are multiracial with a laissez faire attitude toward religion and spirituality. If you were a black-haired Buddhist from Taipei or a brown-skinned Hindu from Bangalore, which party would instinctively seem more comfortable?
For many years the racial smoke signals worked in Republicans favor. Now Asians, blacks and Hispanics are sending the signals. Blacks vote Democratic 9-1; Asians 3-1; Hispanics almost 3-1. Support for immigration reform will help. But Democrats have a four-decade head start in building and managing multiracial coalitions. Republicans have a lot of catching up to do in a hurry.