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City’s Asian pop. reaches 1 million

New York City has long been the American city with the highest number of Asian-American residents. Though San Francisco and some other towns may be able to claim a greater concentration of residents of Asian descent, New York is the first municipality in the country to count 1 million Asian Americans within its borders, according to the 2010 census.

Nearly one in eight New Yorkers can trace their forebears to China, Korea, India, Bangladesh, Japan or other Asian countries, and their increasing influence can be seen in the halls of city government. And vast swaths of those New Yorkers who can trace their backgrounds to Asian countries, particularly Korea and China, call Flushing home.

The city’s first Asian City Council member, John Liu, was born in Taiwan in 1967 and moved to Flushing when he was 3. He was elected to the first of two terms in City Hall in 2001.

Now there are two Asian-American Council members — Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) — and one Asian-American representative in Albany, state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

And Liu was elected in 2009 to the post of city comptroller, making him the first Asian-American citywide official in New York.

Now that about 13 percent of the city is Asian American today, according to the census, many Asian-American leaders say the community needs more Asian-American representation in the legislatures.

Meng, a Flushing native of Chinese descent, said ensuring that Asian-Americans’ concerns are being addressed is more important than just having Asian Americans in office.

Despite the fact that the population of Asian Americans in the city is increasing far more quickly than that of any other ethnicity — 32 percent since 2000 — less than 1 percent of ethnicity-specific city funding goes to Asian-focused groups, Meng said.

“I think that [the population shifts are] more of a showing of needs that Asian Americans may have and that are not being met,” Meng said. “The point is not only who’s representing you, but what they’re doing for various groups and how they’re meeting their needs.”

Flushing’s Sunny Hahn, a self-described longtime “community activist who happens to be Korean American” and senior adviser to the Korean-American Association of Queens, said she agrees with Meng’s premise, yet added that the number of Asian-American residents is a good sign for their future, but that there needs to be an effort to form a cohesive, strong bloc.

“Within Asian communities, there are very diverse groups and we should get along together and work together in harmony to have collective strength,” she said.

But Hahn said that Asian Americans need to be sure to grow in a way that does not cause bad blood with other groups.

“In any ethnic community, we all have a mission and responsibilities,” she said. “The fact that we do well economically and keep growing in number doesn’t mean we can’t do whatever we want. We also have to respect the history of America and its culture.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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