What Will It Take to Win Brooklyn’s First Majority-Asian District?

A member of the New York Young Republican Club’s Asian Caucus, Nick Tan—no relation—sat with a family of constituents around a rotating array of steamed fish, Yangzhou fried rice, and other dishes. Nick, who grew up in New Jersey, lives in Manhattan. “Democrats, especially the Asian ones, don’t represent us,” he said. But, in the past two years, he went on, “the Asian community finally woke up, and made this very rightward shift.” Asian values are conservative at heart, he insisted. What did he think of Tan’s Republican primary challenger, LaBella, staying in the race? “It’s the voters who will control the Party,” he said, adding, “Will the Party bosses ever like us? Probably not.” But it was “the country-club Republicans who hold back the Yings of the world,” he said, and “they’re going to be irrelevant. Asian Americans will be the new electorate of the Republican Party, and it will be a strong one.” What did he think of the night’s speeches? “I forgot my Chinese a long time ago,” he said.

Across the table sat a constituent in her late thirties named Liz Yang, whose family came to New York from Guangzhou. Her mother-in-law went to Tan’s senior-day-care center. “Growing up, I thought Republicans were for the rich, and Democrats—if it weren’t for those government benefits, my parents would be struggling to raise us,” she said. But now, many of her friends are Republican, and her view of the two parties had changed. “They’re not protecting the rich,” she said, of the G.O.P., “they’re protecting the wealth for people who actually earn it. It’s the Republican Party that wants to protect the middle class. Democrats want to keep us low-income.” She had friends who were moving from Section 8 housing into their own homes, and she had begun to feel that government assistance “makes people lazy,” she said. Also, it was too complicated. When she’d been laid off, she applied for unemployment, but doing so felt like a full-time job. Plus, she was navigating health care for her father, who’d had a stroke. “I really wish our health-care system was like the Canadian system,” she said. “The taxes are higher and it’s equal opportunity, instead of ours.” Ying Tan, like most Republicans, seems skeptical of nationalized health care: “You always have to watch when the government manages seniors’ and retirees’ health insurance,” she has said.

After the fund-raiser, Rosanne Li stood outside the restaurant with her mother. Both were buzzing from the event. Democrats were ruining the city, they agreed. In the schools, for instance, children were being exposed to homosexuality, Li said. Later, she tried to explain what worried her about this. “You know how my mother and I have a good relationship with each other? I don’t want schools to indoctrinate kids to be homosexuals—that would break the relationship between the kid and their parent. The home and the family would be broken,” she said. “When I hear that some people who don’t have a good relationship with their parents, whatever it is that caused them not to have”—she paused to think of the term, then switched to Cantonese—“a stable family, I don’t want indoctrination to rock that stability.”

The maître d’ of New Choi Fook popped his head out of the door. “If you’re going to be chatting outside, you might as well just come in and have some tea,” he said in Cantonese. The Lis thanked him but explained that they were headed home. They turned and began their walk beneath an elevated subway line as a D train rumbled above. ♦

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