Grace Meng: A ris­ing star in US pol­i­tics BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By MAY ZHOU in Houston mayzhou@chi­nadai­

It was just a one-day visit to Houston, but for New York Con­gress­woman Grace Meng it was a full sched­ule: a pri­vate fundraiser for her fu­ture re-elec­tion cam­paign, the In­ter­na­tional Lead­er­ship Foun­da­tion’s (ILF) event to sup­port its mis­sion of train­ing Asian-Amer­i­can lead­ers and the Lu­nar New Year ban­quet of the Shan­dong Fel­low­ship As­so­ci­a­tion of South­ern Amer­ica to sup­port the gen­eral Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

And in be­tween those events Meng took time to ex­plain how she got into pol­i­tics.

“I was born and raised in Queens, New York, my par­ents are im­mi­grants from Chi­nese main­land and Tai­wan,’’ she said in an in­ter­view with China Daily. “As a kid grow­ing up in New York, I never de­cided to go po­lit­i­cal. I wasn’t re­ally good at math and sci­ence, other than that I was a very typ­i­cal quiet Asian kid, I was shy in classes and I never par­tic­i­pated in any stu­dent gov­ern­ment. I just never thought of do­ing any pol­i­tics.”

Meng said that as she got in­volved in her com­mu­nity through­out col­lege and law school, she re­al­ized that some­thing had to be done to change things. So af­ter get­ting her law de­gree from Yeshiva Univer­sity, she be­gan her ca­reer in pub­lic in­ter­est law.

She was named a part­ner at Yoon and Kim, LLP, and still man­aged to de­vote time to com­mu­nity work, in­clud­ing pro bono ser­vices for Sanc­tu­ary for Fam­i­lies, found­ing the FO­CUS Com­mu­nity Ac­cess Center, sit­ting on the boards of sev­eral lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, and serv­ing as pres­i­dent of the Queens Chi­nese Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion.

In 2008, Meng de­feated in­cum­bent Ellen Young of New York’s 22nd State As­sem­bly dis­trict for the seat that was held by her fa­ther, Jimmy Meng, in 2004-2006. She won re-elec­tion in 2010.

Meng said that dur­ing the third year of her term in the State As­sem­bly, her con­gress­man, Gary Ack­er­man, sud­denly an­nounced he was re­tir­ing.

“This was at a tremen­dous time for the po­lit­i­cal scene in New York be­cause due to re­dis­trict­ing, there be­came a few seats that were called Asian po­lar­ity or Asian ma­jor­ity seats — two New York As­sem­bly seats, two New York Se­nate seats and also a con­gres­sional seat. Of all the seats, only one was held by an Asian Amer­i­can, which was my seat for Flush­ing.”

Meng said she waited to see if any Asian-Amer­i­can can­di­dates would run for the of­fices.

“Days and months went by and no­body was in­ter­ested. I was not plan­ning to run for a con­gres­sional seat. I had just started at the As­sem­bly. I have two young kids, and I did not think trav­el­ing back and forth be­tween Wash­ing­ton and New York was the ideal sit­u­a­tion,’’ she said. “But I had to make a quick de­ci­sion to run or not, and I did not think my hus­band would be happy with this, but he ac­tu­ally en­cour­aged me.”

Meng fondly called her hus­band Wayne Kye, who vis­ited Houston with her, “my staff/ vol­un­teer/con­sul­tant”.

Seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity, Meng was elected to Congress in the fourth year of her po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in 2012. The ris­ing po­lit­i­cal star in New York would be­come a ris­ing po­lit­i­cal star in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

For Meng, the key to suc­ceed in pub­lic of­fice starts with meet­ing her con­stituents’ needs: “Pol­i­tics is very lo­cal, it’s im­por­tant to do work on the be­half of peo­ple, to reach out to let them know what you are do­ing to im­prove their daily qual­ity of life. That’s what I fo­cus on. I have a very di­verse dis­trict and peo­ple have dif­fer­ent is­sues and con­cerns. We deal with any­thing from loud air­plane noise, train pol­lu­tion to help­ing with small busi­nesses.”

Asian Amer­i­cans’ ap­a­thy to­ward pol­i­tics has al­ways con­cerned some Asian Amer­i­can lead­ers, and Meng is no ex­cep­tion.

“It re­ally both­ered me day in and day out that there were seats cre­ated for us to be bet­ter rep­re­sented in state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments, but no one was there to seize the op­por­tu­nity. We weren’t pre­pared to be blunt,” she said.

Meng said that is why she is very sup­port­ive to or­ga­ni­za­tion like the In­ter­na­tional Lead­er­ship Foun­da­tion.

“We are at a very crit­i­cal junc­ture. We need to get started to groom our stu­dents now, from high school, col­lege and grad­u­ate. We need to give them the tools and means and ex­po­sure to un­der­stand what it means to be part of the gov­ern­ment.”

Meng is not shy to push for Asian-Amer­i­cans’ in­ter­ests. While in the New York As­sem­bly, she drafted a bill to elim­i­nate “Ori­en­tal” from state doc­u­ments in ref­er­ence to New York­ers of Asian de­scent. Gov­er­nor David Pater­son signed the bill into law in 2009.

Now, Meng said: “I drafted a res­o­lu­tion in Congress a cou­ple of weeks ago to en­cour­age schools in ar­eas with a large Asian pop­u­la­tion to con­sider mak­ing the Asian Lu­nar New Year a school hol­i­day. Our Jewish neigh­bors in New York get two days off for Rosh Hashanah, but we don’t get any day off. I al­ways thought it a lit­tle un­fair that Asians can’t prop­erly cel­e­brate Lu­nar New Year.”

Meng con­sid­ers this bill sym­bolic, “but it’s also a


•1975 Born in Queens, NY •1997 Bach­e­lors de­gree, Univer­sity of Michi­gan •2002 JD, Yeshiva Univer­sity •2002-2008 Part­ner, Yoon and Kim, LLP Pro Bono At­tor­ney, Sanc­tu­ary for Fam­i­lies •2008-2012 Mem­ber, New York State As­sem­bly •2012 Elected to the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives sign for us to be able to be re­spected and ac­cepted by the main­stream Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.”

Ac­cord­ing to Meng, Asian Amer­i­cans are not there yet.

“A few months af­ter I started in my con­gres­sional of­fice, a woman called and my staff was very help­ful, and this woman asked: ‘Where is Mr. Ack­er­man (who was my pre­de­ces­sor)? What kind of name is Grace Meng?’ “

“That came from one of my con­stituents, part of a dis­trict which lit­er­ally is one of the most di­verse dis­tricts in the en­tire coun­try and there are peo­ple think­ing like that,” Meng said.

“Whether you are first­gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grants or sec­ond or third gen­er­a­tion, there are a lot of peo­ple who think you are for­eign­ers, even if you speak per­fect English, or be­cause of your ap­pear­ance or last name, you are not thought of as Amer­i­cans,” she said. “We may be proud of the suc­cess we have as Asian Amer­i­cans, but we have a long, long way to go. “


“We must give stu­dents the tools to un­der­stand what it means to be part of the gov­ern­ment,” Con­gress­woman Grace Meng says.

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