HomeBreaking BambooGrace Meng: Quiet Asian American "rock star" of NY Politics

Grace Meng: Quiet Asian American “rock star” of NY Politics

By Ti-Hua Chang

Most politicians love the limelight, but not Rep Grace Meng (D-NY).

The first and only Asian American representing the state of New York in Congress, Meng says she prefers to work quietly and behind the scenes.

“As you know I don’t love the camera… My goal is to be a rock star for my district, for my community,” she told AsAmNews.

A good week, Meng says, is when she accomplishes something concrete for her district, or community adding, “…a lot of the work that we’re doing is still based off of gaps in services from both the Coronavirus pandemic and also in parts of my district, catastrophes like Hurricane Ida. During the pandemic, obviously, small businesses were closed. So we’ve been working really hard to try to get resources out to our small businesses.”

The ten-year incumbent represents the 6th congressional district of  New York. It’s a diverse, working and middle-class district entirely in the New York City borough of Queens.

She herself was born in Elmhurst, Queens. She grew up in parts of the Queens district she now represents.

Its two largest groups are Asian and White. Meng has been able to navigate her district, which is diverse not only racially, but in different Asian ethnicities from Chinese and Korean to South Asians.

REP. MENG, THE NICE, POWERFUL MOM

When you meet Representative Meng, she looks and acts with the warmth and empathy of her personal roles of a mother and wife. Meanwhile, the 10-year incumbent holds powerful positions in Congress.

She is the Vice ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee and sits on both the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee and the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related agencies subcommittee.  

She is the first Vice Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and co-Chair of the House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Antisemitism and as a Vice-Chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus

MENG:  ASIAN AMERICANS SCARED

Yet the influential Meng notes, “…it’s a very scary time. I literally have Asian Americans telling me that they are scared of what would be a modern-day, Japanese internment camp…You’ve seen legislation like that from Texas, which prevents someone who’s not an American citizen, from purchasing real estate, from buying a house… We have to understand that a lot of people cannot or do not want to distinguish between someone who’s Asian American and someone who is a part of the CCP government (Chinese Communist Party). And we cannot make those broad strokes for fear of people getting painted as an enemy of the United States or unpatriotic.”

Grace Meng smiles in a flower dress and blazer
Photo by Ti-Hua Chang

MENG ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN CONGRESS

Meng has sponsored successful legislation from laws supporting religious freedom to striking “Oriental” from federal law, protecting public housing residents from insufficient heat, championing improvements to broadband and internet access for students across the country and to combat the rise in hate and violence that increased during the coronavirus pandemic, Meng passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law.

MENG DARLING OF AAPI ORGANIZATIONS & OTHERS

Her work has endeared Meng to Asian American activist organizations both locally in New York and nationally.  Thu Nguyen, the Executive Director of OCA, national Asian Pacific American Advocates responded to AsAmNews:

“A visionary leader for the Asian American community, Rep. Grace Meng has advocated for youth issues such as AANHPI studies curriculum as well as mental health. Being a mother of two sons who attend public schools in New York, she truly understands the needs and aspirations of the next generation. She leads with grace and empathy amid the challenges and hardships that the AANHPI community has faced in recent years. Rep. Grace Meng is a trailblazer and a role model for all Americans.”

For the third year in a row, Meng was listed as the most influential Asian American in New York by the CityandState.com news service. Long-time New York Political strategist, Hank Sheinkopf, says of Meng and her diverse district, “…It’s hard to manage that. You know,  which she does rather well. She is well regarded by her colleagues. She’s someone the leadership in Washington can count on, which regardless of what some people want to say, having those kinds of relationships is very, very important…Because when you don’t have the relationships, things don’t get done for your home district.”

Sandra Ung is Meng’s long-time friend and former staffer and advisor. Ung is now the City council member for Flushing, Queens which is within Meng’s district. Ung says Meng warmth and sincerity is genuine. She adds that Meng led the way for her especially as an Asian woman noting, “ She’s definitely a pioneer. …It was easier for someone like me to get elected, because I had a mentor and I had someone who showed me the path.”

Grace Meng Rep. Grace Meng speaking during a roundtable in San Francisco
Rep. Grace Meng speaking during a roundtable sponsored by Chinese for Affirmative Action in San Francisco. Photo by Randall Yip

MENG SAYS AMERICAN DEMOCRACY CHALLENGED

Representative Meng says Democracy in America is being challenged. On January 6th, 2021 she hid from the insurrectionists who stormed the capitol and remembers, “ …we heard all the loud noises outside and you know, I did text my family and tell them I love them. I wasn’t 100% sure that I would get out of there. I didn’t know what to expect at all.”

Grace Meng does believe democracy will ultimately prevail and America will be stronger and more inclusive and diverse.

This reporter could not find anyone who, on the record, would say anything negative about Representative Meng, the quiet, Asian American “rock star” of New York Politics.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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