Little Guyana, located in Richmond Hill and South Ozone in Queens and consisting of Indo-Caribbean and South Asian residents, is a gerrymandered community in New York City. For three decades, organizers have been on a crusade for the community to be adequately represented at every level of city and state government.

Every 10 years, after the census, the voting lines for the State Senate, State Assembly, U.S. House of Representatives, and City Council have to be redrawn to reflect the new count of the population. Before the state’s redistricting process was kicked off by the census count in 2020, Little Guyana was split between two senate districts, two congressional districts, four city council districts, and seven assembly districts: Districts 23, 24, 27, 28, 31, 32, and 38. 

Caribbean Equality Project Founder and Executive Director Mohamed Q. Amin said being split up is detrimental in real time. When the COVID crisis struck in 2020 and people were dying by the thousands, he said that residents were desperately calling all assembly members and city council members for help and a testing center. 

“You’re on Facebook seeing all these virtual memorials happening for somebody because they didn’t have access to testing. Our South Asian Bangla community didn’t have information in their language,” said Amin. To him, this was the definition of gerrymandering: fracturing a community based on racial identity. He said if there had been a central representative to advocate for them, the COVID crisis might not have claimed so many lives.

Recent redistricting rounds split the community into three assembly districts, but the process is still dragging on after failing to reach a cohesive decision about voting maps last year. A special master was then appointed to redraw maps. He put Little Guyana into a single assembly district for the first time in history, although they are still left without a singular city council or senate district.

This week, another series of public hearings is being held on the assembly district voting maps. It’s one of the last chances the community has to hold onto a singular district, because the map is subject to change later.  

In preparation for the hearings, groups like the Caribbean Equality Project and South Queens Women’s March under the umbrella of the Asian Pacific American Voting and Organizing to Increase Civic Engagement’s (APA VOICE) Redistricting Task Force joined together last Thursday to inform the community about what’s going on and recruit people who would testify.

“I grew up here, so this issue is deeply personal to me,” said South Queens Women’s March Founder and Director Aminta Kilawan Narine. “As a child and now young adult, I have watched so many candidates from our community who have bravely attempted to run for elected office and lost. And that’s important because when we talk about this issue of redistricting, we’re talking about the fact that our communities have historically been chopped up in so many different pieces that it practically makes it impossible for a candidate [who] comes out of our community of interest to win.”

Despite the advocates’ clear passion, this is not the easiest topic to get people involved in. Redistricting can move at a glacial pace and unexciting when it requires attending hours-long meetings. Still Amin, Narine, and other speakers stressed the importance of the process in allocating resources like healthcare, education, transportation, jobs, housing, and public safety to the community. 

“Over the past two years, we have seen the power of visibility—the power of community and the power of Asian diversity. Often, in the redistricting process, our Asian American communities of interest have been neglected to the point where our communities are divided between multiple Assembly districts,” said Amin. “We have seen this throughout NYC, which makes it far more challenging for Asian Americans to have our cultural and linguistic needs taken seriously by elected officials.”

District leader Richard David’s family immigrated to the city in 1991 and he has lived in the neighborhood since 1996. His parents were working class parents with too many jobs to be politically involved, but they did want that for their kids. He became an activist, founding the Indo-Caribbean Alliance, and has run for city council and assembly seats. He said his community has not been allowed a collective voice in government.

“We don’t have elected officials who live here,” said David. “Imagine if they did. It means you might see them at Chase Bank and all that garbage that blows up on the street—they’re going to care a little bit more about. They might actually care more about that school if their kids have to go there.”

In addition to urging community members to be more resolutely visible at public hearings, organizers are considering legal action at the city level. Lawyer Jerry Vattamala, with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, is preparing to file a lawsuit, as his predecessors have done, to sue City Council for prioritizing other neighborhoods like predominantly white Howard Beach near Rockaway and violating the city charter. 

“The city charter says there’s a prioritized list that the districting commission was supposed to follow and [it] didn’t. The first criterion is equal population. The second is fair and effective representation for racial and language minorities,” Vattamala said.

Under federal voting rights law, Black, Asian, Latino, and Native American communities of interests must be protected. Vattamala said he aims to file before City Council election petitioning starts at the end of February. “We’ve been fighting for decades and we’ve gotten some success over the years, but this is unacceptable. This is taking us backward, what they did here,” said Vattamala.

More information about attending redistricting hearings is available at

The next Queens County meeting will be held on Thurs., Feb. 16 at 4:00 p.m. at York College (CUNY).
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *