New York State To Have An Official Asian American And Pacific Islander (AAPI) Commission

New York State Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar announces passage of AAPI Commission bill. PHOTO X @JeniferRajkumar

In a historic move, the first New York State Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission has been officially established this weekend when Governor Kathy Hochul signed State Assembly Person Jennifer Rajkumar’s bill proposing it.

Rajkumar managed to gather support of 49 organizations and 40 lawmakers after introducing the bill last year, and, upon the governor’s signing it, was also successful in getting funding for it in this year’s state budget. Rajkumar’s bill was sponsored by State Senator Jeremy Cooney and co-sponsored by State Assembly person Ron Kim.

Housed in the New York Department of State, and chaired by NY Secretary of State, the new AAPI Commission will consist of 13 members appointed jointly by the Governor, State Senate, and State Assembly.

Although Asian Americans form more than 10 percent of New York’s population, it is the 13th state to have such a commission. A White House initiative, aiming to advance equity, justice and opportunity for AAPI communities, was established much before.

AAPI communities include 75 countries from the East, Southeast, and South Asia and Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. According to a 2021 Pew Research report, close to 18 million Asian adults live in the U.S. and account for 7 percent of the total population.

The NY AAPI Commission comes at an opportune time, according to Rajkumar, who said, “This Commission will empower New Yorkers for generations to come.”

In an exclusive interview with News India Times, Rajkumar said, “I am proud to have established a historic Commission which will serve as a mechanism to put the Asian American communities in touch with the state government.”

Rajkumar spoke of the Commission’s importance in representing Asian Americans who have become the fastest growing ethnic group, having increased 40 percent statewide in the past decade, and almost triple digit percent increases in some regions. Although making large gains in representation across many fields, the community faces many challenges including a spike in hate crimes, language access issues and access to state government services, she said.

Rajkumar said, among other services, the Commission will also address these challenges, providing necessary support to identify hate crimes and enlist help from community entities and agencies to deal with them. Most importantly, recognizing and identifying such crimes as hate crimes was a first step towards eliminating them, Rajkumar said.

Mentioning the recent waves of hate crimes against the Sikh community in Queens, Rajkumar said, “While there has been an increase in such crimes, it is also heartening to see that the New York Police Department and the District Attorney both have recognized and identified them as hate crimes.”

This is relevant in view of a 2021 CNN report on only 7 hate crime convictions out of 233 reported attacks against Asian Americans in New York City, as per the Asian American Bar Association of New York.

Rajkumar said NYS AAPI Commission will help formulate new policies to uplift the community, will introduce new programs related to the community across government agencies, and ensure that government services can reach Asian Americans.  The Commission includes agenda to promote the safety, health, economic stability, and education. It will also spur leadership and develop public education campaigns on Asian American issues and culture.

“The Commission comes at a pivotal moment in history,” Rajkumar said. “I am the first South Asian American woman to be elected to the New York State Assembly. There are more Asian representatives in New York Assembly than ever before. The forming of the AAPI Commission is an exciting step in the direction of due recognition for the community,” she said.

In a similar move to educate and bring awareness, the state of Connecticut introduced in June 2022 the first mandatory teaching of Asian American history in public schools, followed by more states. In New York City in the fall of 2022, AAPI curriculum was taught in about a dozen schools, and will expand across the public school system in 2024.

Assembly person Rajkumar has been working at bringing to Asian Americans more recognition and representation, influencing policies, introducing bills and working to get them signed into law. Recently, her efforts led to turning into law the bill to have Diwali as a NYC public school holiday.

Rajkumar who has been active with the community constantly said she is focused everyday on making it easy for the community. She is involved in every single event in their lives and over the weekend, she distributed 350 turkeys for the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays. “It makes me so happy to feel that families will be able to celebrate the holiday with joy,” Rajkumar said.



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