Group rallies to unite SW Queens in Assembly

Gurpal Singh of SEVA presents the group's plans for a community of interest to be considered for redistricting.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A group of Richmond Hill and Ozone Park residents, most of them South Asian and West Indian, met inside Villa Russo Monday night to shape their future.

The group, called the Unite Richmond Hill coalition, identified a swath of southwest Queens that it says should be a cohesive district as political lines are set to be redrawn this year.

Gurpal Singh, a community organizer with the group SEVA, led the meeting and said he purposely held it without inviting elected officials, who represent the area.

“I’m sure no one here got a phone call to hear what you want for your neighborhood,” he said. “These politicians couldn’t give a damn about you. They don’t want you involved in this. They want you to be quiet. I don’t want you to be quiet.”

He noted that the neighborhood is represented by seven state Assembly members — none of whom live in the neighborhood.

“The only community that I’ve found in Queens that is as chopped up is our community,” he said.

The area the group identified as a community of interest is bounded by the Van Wyck Expressway, the Belt Parkway, the Brooklyn-Queens border and Park Lane South — 79 census tracts that contains roughly 42,000 people.

Singh said that area has enough population for two Assembly districts and contended it should be included in the same state Senate and congressional districts.

“This makes sense that this is a community of interest,” Singh said. “What we’re saying is that this is a community of immigrants” with similar values.

The lion’s share of the land is represented by Latinos at 38 percent, followed by Asians at 22 percent, whites at 15 percent and other races at 13 percent.

Unite Richmond Hill said its goal was not to create a district that would make it easier for a south Asian or West Indian to win political office.

“It’s not a matter of Sikh, it’s not a matter of Guyanese, it’s not a matter of Latino,” said Sikh community leader Mohinder Singh. “I think this [plan] is the best answer and acceptable to the people.”

Community leader Chuck Mohan said it was time for the immigrant community to be heard.

“Some of us are still under this colonial mentality,” he said. “You need to take a stand and fight for your right. What they’re trying to do is divide and conquer.”

Following the meeting, SEVA had its New Year’s party and the organization’s goals were assisted by Himanshu “Heems” Suri, a member of the alternative hip-hop group Das Racist.

Suri, who grew up in Glen Oaks, Bellerose and Flushing and on Long Island, said the redistricting issue was important.

“I’ve never seen my relatives participate in the political process,” he said.

Suri performed for the crowd at Villa Russo and released his first solo mixtape, or unofficial album.

“It’s a project that should sound like Queens,” said Suri, who now calls Brooklyn home. “I used a lot of Indian samples and I hang out with a lot of Indian kids. I have friends whose names are Mohamed and Kumal.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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