The coronavirus pandemic is still raging in New York, the former epicenter of the United States. But seeing the protest processions across the city, there is no way to say that even a few days ago, these city dwellers were under house arrest in fear of coronavirus.
The murder of George Floyd has changed the scene, changed the course of events. Covid-19 panic, anti-apartheid protests, as well as the impending presidential election – all in all, the United States is in full swing. And this time, the highest number of Bangladeshi-American candidates are fighting to participate in the national election battle in different positions. The primary election, which is to decide who will be their party candidate for the upcoming national election is still ongoing, candidates are waiting for the absentee vote counts.
Bangladeshi-Americans have no representatives
Bangladeshis started coming to the United States, mainly in the eighties. The number of Bangladeshi immigrants to the United States has been increasing every year since 1971. It was 154 in 1973 and 590 in 1976, and in 1980 it stood at 3,500. There are now hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi immigrants in the United States, with 80,000 to 90,000 Bangladeshi-Americans living in New York City. Despite the large number, they have no direct representation on the City Council. This time, eight Bangladeshi-Americans are competing across the city, the highest number of participants so far.
Moumita Ahmed came to the United States when she was eight years old. Her father works in a packaging medicine factory. Moumita is involved in social work as well as studying at Stony Brook University. Although her parents had such a dream that her daughter would become a doctor when she grows up, social service and politics have attracted Moumita. Sanders’s ideology drew her into politics. She has been Dreaming of working for immigrants, to address various crises and injustice, if elected to represent as a district leader.
Joy Chowdhury came to the United States and worked in a perfume warehouse. His first job was to lift and unload heavy boxes there. “Even a very strong man couldn’t do what I did for more than a week,” said Joy. He has been driving a taxi for nine years. Joy Chowdhury was twice elected president of over 50,000 students in the United States. He has led a movement against Governor Andrew Kumar to reduce admission fees. This time he will run from Assembly District 34 in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Woodside, a Bangladeshi town in New York. Although young Bangladeshi immigrants have come forward in politics, the path is not smooth for them. Joy says, there is no one here to show the way, no elected representative guardian who can guide them. Moreover, “we are subject to massive discrimination,” he said.
Shadow of Awami-BNP conflict
The divisions within the Bangladeshi community are also a significant obstacle for Bangladeshi-American local politicians. Here, too, is the shadow of the traditional Awami League-BNP bipartisan political conflict in Bangladesh. If a candidate is a supporter or anyhow connected to the party they dislike in Bangladeshi politics, the members of the community often refrain from voting for him.
Besides, there is a lack of enthusiasm in the Bangladeshi community to vote. According to statistics from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), Asian Americans vote relatively less. From 2000 to 2010, the growth rate of Asians was just after Hispanics, with the Hispanic population growing at 43.0 percent and Asians growing at 42.9 percent.
Asians are dropped back in the voting
Asian Americans have also emerged as a voter bloc, but Asians are far behind when it comes to voting. According to the Equality Indicator, Asians voted 13.9 percent in the 2014 election in New York City, with a majority of 22.3 percent white voters and 21.3 percent black voters. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, a big reason behind the low number of Asian voters is the busy lives of voters. Still, supporters say the reason behind this is the little attention of politicians and candidates towards the community. It is transparent that there is a lack of unity within the Bengali community. But looking at the candidates, a different scene can be seen. They are moving forward with their own cultural identity, individuality.
Jhal. From the name, it seems that it is a Jhal-muri shop. But no, Jhal is a social initiative designed to empower Bengali immigrants. Jhal NYC prepares mothers and new immigrants at home with jobs and whatever they want to do in the future. Mahfuzul Islam, the founder of Jhal, has a master’s degree in international relations from Harvard. He is a candidate in Assembly District 24 with demands for participatory budget, homelessness crisis, healthcare, free public education in community colleges, etc.
A significant obstacle to the victory of Bangladeshi-Americans is the inability of many Bangladeshi voters to vote in the primary. According to the law, to vote in the primary, the voter has to be registered with that party. In New York, 59 percent of Asian Americans are registered Democrats, 12 percent are Republicans, and more than 28 percent of voters are not registered with any party.
There is no voice in politics
Besides, a large part of Bangladeshi immigrants is not voters. Even after paying taxes from hard-earned money for years, they have no voice in the politics of this country, and they have no rights. Under U.S. law, no one can vote in municipal or presidential elections unless they are citizens. Despite limited funds and a lack of community awareness, candidates are moving forward with their election promises.
Mary Jobaida arrived in the United States at a time when Islamophobia was prevalent throughout the United States. The black veil did not bind her from moving forward. She has advanced with her individuality and dignity. Jobaida’s goal is to create an inclusive New York – where everyone has equal rights and justice. Jobaida has been running in Assembly District 37 against Kathy Nolan, a New York State Assemblymember since 1985. If she wins, she will be the first Bangladeshi-American Assemblywoman.
The fight against racism
All of the candidates in New York are fighting for the Democratic Progressive. Barney Sanders is on the ballot despite losing the presidential race, and his supporters believe that if a large number of progressive candidates win, Joe Biden will have to compromise with his proposed policy to secure Barney’s support. The candidates have been involved in the ongoing fight for the rights of the blacks, above all against racism. They dream of an egalitarian state with high human rights, where no one will be oppressed. Congress candidate Saniat Chowdhury wrote, “My opponent Gregory Mix is chairman of the subcommittee on consumer protection and financial institutions. He has again bailed out the big banks during the COVID crisis. He does not believe it is necessary to provide risk-pay and PPE for essential workers.” If Saniat is nominated in the primary and wins in November, he may become the second Bangladeshi-American Congressman after Hansen Hashim Clarke. Born in Detroit, Clark’s father came from Beani Bazaar in Sylhet, and his mother was of African descent. The story of Bangladeshi-Americans joining the electoral battle in New York to articulate the demands of their community is not new, and it has a history of success.
Morshed Alam set an example by defeating Senator Frank Padavan, who had been in the Senate for eight years. Mr. Morshed won with more than 41 percent of the votes even without having the support of the Queens County Democratic organization in the Democratic primary in 1989. Although he was sure of winning in 2000, he backed down because the Democrat Queens County machine did not approve of him. But considering his popularity, growing new immigrants, new citizens, and new Democrats, he was made chairman of the New American Committee, which Morshed Alam sees as recognition for New Americans.
In the last 20 years, the struggle for survival of these new Americans has turned into a battle for rights.