Asian-American Week: Councilwoman's Response Spurs Flushing Asian-American Community To Emerge
In 1996, then-Flushing City Councilwoman Julia Harrison made controversial remarks to the New York Times about her constituency's growing Asian-American population, leading that population to unify and have its voice heard in government. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed this Asian-American Week report.
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In 1996, then-Flushing City Councilwoman Julia Harrison was quoted in the New York Times speaking about the growing Asian-American community in her district.
"They were more like colonizers than immigrants," Harrison said. "They sure as hell had a lot of money and they sure as hell knew how to buy property and jack up rents of retail shops and drive people out."
Today, Flushing is a hub of Asian-American activity. The neighborhood is at the center of the First Congressional District with a plurality of Asian-American voters. Many said those remarks drove people to register to vote.
"It really helped this community grow up, because we think we gotta have some representative," said Peter Tu of the Flushing Chinese Business Association. "Not always no voice, just support some politician without one of from us."
In the years since 1996, Asian-Americans have grown into the area’s most powerful voting bloc. They've represented Flushing in the State Assembly and City Council. John Liu helped used his job as a councilman from Flushing to become the city's Comptroller and the first Asian American elected to citywide office. The district's current Councilman is Peter Koo.
"We've moved forward a lot now," Koo said. "Now people are more responsive to politics. "Before, people didn't care about it. Now people really care about it in our community."
Harrison still lives in Flushing. She's 91 and remains a Democratic Party district leader. She won re-election to the council in 1997 even after she made those remarks.
Harrison still believes those comments were taken out of context but she stands behind what she said. She said she'd always been an advocate for all of her constituents and there's a simple reason she's stayed involved in politics.
"I'm ready to go," she said. "And I swear to God, if my legs weren't doing me dirt, I would be running for Congress myself."
What remains to be seen is whether this newly reconstituted congressional district will elect Queens' first Asian-American Representative.