New York elected two Indian American candidates to its State Assembly on Tuesday, making them the first South Asian Americans to serve in the lower house of the state’s legislature, reports NPR.
Jenifer Rajkumar, 38, was elected to represent District 38 after defeating Republican Giovanni Perna, and Zohran Mamdani, 29, will represent Astoria. Mamdani is also the son of filmmaker Mira Nair.
Both Rajkumar and Mamdani are from Queens, which has the largest concentration of South Asians in New York City. Despite the large South Asian population, however, the city has never voted South Asian candidates into the State Assembly before.
New York as a whole has only elected one other Indian American into state office before: Kevin Thomas was elected into the state Senate to become one of the two first Asian American state senators alongside John Liu in 2018.
The difficulty in electing South Asian Americans to the state legislature has been attributed in part to gerrymandering.
“In Queens, district lines were drawn such that South Asian areas were cut into different parts,” said Rajkumar.
She believes that her campaign’s success came from her ability to connect with multiple communities in the district.
“We won big not only in the South Asian community but in Latino, Irish and Italian neighborhoods.”
Mamdani, meanwhile, says racism is also a major factor in the lack of South Asian representation in the state’s legislature.
“Indians, if we lack anything, it’s definitely not ambition and desire to run for office,” he said. Many Indian and South Asian Americans have attempted to run for State Assembly before, including Rajkumar in 2016.
Mamdani, who is endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America, says he aims to build a “multiracial coalition of the working class” and has criticized the Democratic Party in New York for impeding the election of a more diverse legislature.
“For the fact that the party institutions that have held power have not picked and propelled someone from the community to do so shows that they haven’t had value for that.”
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