‘AAPI New Yorkers deserve to be heard in the halls of power, and we need a mayor who will recapture our diverse communities’ support and confidence.’

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

A rally in Manhattan last year calling for an end to anti-Asian hate.

The diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in New York City is finally beginning to receive the focused attention it has long needed, and we deserve City Hall’s concrete commitment. 

We call on Mayor Eric Adams to strengthen City Hall’s relationship with New York’s AAPI community by establishing a Mayor’s Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs to effectively address our distinct community needs. While we are encouraged by the fact that the mayor has already appointed several highly qualified AAPIs to positions in his administration, New York City’s AAPI community requires much more in order to reach its full potential and thrive.

The city’s AAPI population—the highest of any U.S. city, at 1.5 million—is the city’s fastest growing racial group and over the past decade has accounted for more than half of the city’s population growth, having doubled every decade since 1970 and expanded into more neighborhoods.  Making up nearly 18 percent of the city’s population, our communities are strong economic drivers and more civically engaged than ever before. We comprise the fastest growing voter base in New York City. AAPI New Yorkers deserve to be heard in the halls of power, and we need a mayor who will recapture our diverse communities’ support and confidence.

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely overturned how we live and function, presenting immense and often painful challenges to our economy, health, schools, and livelihoods. Hidden by the myth of the model minority, our community has suffered immensely from the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic.   

Our coalition represents over 60 community-based organizations (CBO) that collectively employ thousands of professionals and serve hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with ancestry from East, Southeast, South, and Central Asia. We provide to our communities life-affirming in-language and culturally competent services—distributing meals to the elderly, fighting for rent and unemployment relief, sustaining access to HIV testing and treatment, supporting children and families experiencing heightened mental health struggles and domestic violence, and expanding access to COVID testing and vaccines.

While we’ve worked tirelessly to meet our community members’ exacerbated needs, we cannot fully sustain our organizations’ vital services without receiving adequate support from the city. Our communities are continuing to reel from the economic fallout of the COVID19 pandemic, which led Asian American New Yorkers to experience the largest increase in joblessness and forced our CBOs to exponentially expand our services overnight. And reports of anti-Asian incidents continue to surge, increasing by nearly 400 percent in 2021 and heightening fears of harassment and violence. Just this weekend, an Asian American New Yorker was shoved to her death at the Times Square subway station. A Sikh taxi driver was assaulted in another incident at JFK Airport earlier this month.

Additionally, a report from the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health underscores the urgency for improved data collection and informed policymaking for AAPI New Yorkers, revealing that Chinese Americans suffered the highest COVID19-related mortality rate in New York City, and South Asian Americans experienced the highest COVID19 infection and hospitalization rates of all groups in the City.  

To tackle the root causes of our longstanding issues, we urge Mayor Adams to establish and fully fund the first-ever New York City Commission for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Affairs within his first year in office. The Commission, along with high-ranking AAPI staff, would help Mayor Adams and the city recognize the disparities within our community, dismantle the pernicious myth of AAPIs as the model minority, and effectively deploy city resources to meet our needs.

The Commission could achieve these goals by elevating AAPIs in political, economic, and social issues and partnering with the city government to address the needs of our diverse community. The Commission should be supported by paid staff; it should collaborate with community-based organizations to develop appropriate responses and programs, and conduct informed outreach to AAPI organizations and communities. 

And it should also include commissioners of AAPI descent that demonstrate a commitment to community collaboration as well as reflect the AAPI community’s diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, borough residence, and sector (e.g., health and human services, education, research, small business, finance, etc.).The commission would review plans from each mayoral office and city agency on how it will serve, fund, and engage AAPI communities, and be responsible for advising the mayor on how to respond most effectively to the AAPI community’s needs.  

We hope that the incoming administration will be a proactive partner in City Hall and work with us towards Adams’ vision for a more efficient, effective, and equal city that truly sees and serves all New Yorkers.

Anita Gundanna and Vanessa Leung are co-executive directors of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. The following organizations are also joining the authors’ call for the city to establish the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Affairs: A Place for Kids, Academy of Medical & Public Health Services, Inc., Adhikaar, Apex for Youth, ApichaCommunity Health Center, Arab-American Family Support Center, Asian American/Asian Research Institute – CUNY, Asian Americans for Equality, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) NY, CMP, Caribbean Equality Project, Center for All Abilities, Center for the Integration and Advancement of New Americans (CIANA), Chhaya CDC, Chinatown YMCA, Chinese-American Family Alliance for Mental Health, Chinese-American Planning Council, Chinese Progressive Association, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF), Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA), Community Inclusion & Development Alliance (CIDA), Council of Peoples Organization, Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Filipino American Human Services, Inc., GAPIMNY—Empowering Queer & Trans Asian Pacific Islanders, Grand Street Settlement, Hamilton-Madison House, Henry Street Settlement, Homecrest Community Services, Immigrant Health & Cancer Disparities Services, MSKCC, Immigrant Social Services, Inc., India Home, Indochina Sino-American Community Center, Japanese American Association of New York, Japanese American Social Services, Inc., Korean American Family Service Center, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Mekong NYC, MinKwon Center for Community Action, NAPAWF, National Federation of Filipino American Associations – NY Chapter (NaFFAA-NY), OCA-NY, Pilipino American Unity for Progress – NY Chapter (UniPro-NY), NYU Center for Study of Asian American Health, Parent-Child Relationship Association, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Sapna NYC, South Asian Council for Social Services, South Asian Youth Action, Turning Point for Women and Families, United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, University Settlement, United Sikhs, Womankind, Women for Afghan Women, Yemeni American Merchants Association, YWCA of Queens, YMCA of Greater New York