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Queens lawmakers rally for legislation to improve representation of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) communities

Photo courtesy of the office of Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas

May 22, 2024 By Czarinna Andres

At the state Capitol on Wednesday, Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and leaders from groups such as the New York Immigration Coalition and Malikah rallied support for a bill that seeks to overhaul demographic data collection for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) residents in New York.

If passed, it would separate MENA data from the “White” category, thereby providing more accurate representation and improving access to essential resources for an estimated 500,000 MENA individuals residing in New York State.

Following their rally, the legislation was successfully reported out of the Assembly Government Operations Committee to the Assembly floor.

This legislative move comes in the wake of a historical context where, since a 1944 legal ruling, persons from the MENA region have been categorized as “White by law” alongside European Americans in governmental records. This broad classification has obscured the specific challenges faced by these communities, such as language barriers, economic instability and lack of access to targeted services, ultimately exacerbating disparities and limiting support from programs like Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) initiatives.

“Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) communities have been made invisible by our federal and state governments’ data collection methodologies despite having a strong and historical presence in districts like mine in Queens,” said Assemblymember González-Rojas. “Lumping MENA communities into the ‘White’ category creates intentional systemic exclusion from programs and services dedicated to communities of color. Data is power,” she emphasized.

Rana Abdelhamid, Executive Director of Malikah, also underscored the urgency and necessity of the bill. “For many years, Middle Eastern and North African communities, like Egyptians in Little Egypt, haven’t been properly seen in official NYS data. This means challenges we face, like staying safe and having enough food, aren’t noticed and are erased.”

“This is why more than ever we need to pass this bill that creates a category for over 500,000 Middle Eastern and North African New Yorkers so we can more accurately depict our heritage and give NYS the ability to better provide services and resources to our people. We can no longer afford to be erased,” Abdelhamid stated.

As the bill moves to the Assembly floor for further debate and voting, its supporters continue to rally public and legislative support, emphasizing the broader implications for equitable resource distribution and recognition of diverse communities within New York State.

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