While the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (NYIRC) has held a series of public hearings, Queens advocates have called on the commission to expand access to non-English speakers in upcoming public meetings.
Every 10 years, New York state is required to draw new district lines that accurately reflect population and demographic changes found in the most recent Census. In previous years, state legislators controlled the process. However, in 2014, New Yorkers voted on a referendum to hand over the responsibility to a new independent committee, the NYIRC.
But lawmakers argue that since Queens is the most ethnically diverse area on the planet, the NYIRC needs to do more to ensure redistricting is representative of that. So far, NYIRC’s hearings have been conducted only in English.
Ahead of a hearing in Queens on Wednesday, Nov. 17, local lawmakers sent a letter to the NYIRC requesting that it take the following actions: Conduct outreach to non-English speaking communities to promote the upcoming hearings; provide explanations of the process in simple language for people to understand; provide translation for upcoming hearings throughout New York City’s five boroughs in Spanish, Russian, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Korean, Bengali and Arabic; and ensure public hearings are interpreted live.
The letter was signed by high-profile Queens legislators like Assembly members Andrew Hevesi, Zohran Mamdani, Jessica González-Rojas, Catalina Cruz and Jenifer Rajkumar and state Senator Jessica Ramos.
Rajkumar said that there are more than 110 languages spoken in Queens, and all must be able to participate in redistricting.
“As the first South Asian woman elected to New York State Office, I recognize that the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities of south Queens have historically been shut out of the redistricting process,” Rajkumar said. “If their voices literally cannot be heard, then they cannot have the seat at the table they deserve.”
The Central Queens Redistricting Coalition also called on the commission to be more inclusive.
“In 2020, the census was conducted in over 13 spoken languages. The current redistricting process is being conducted in English only,” the Central Queens Redistricting Coalition said. “We are glad to see Assemblyman Hevesi and many of his legislative peers standing up for our neighbors who need access to this process and are presently shut out. It is our hope that even at this point in the process, adjustments and appropriate language accommodation can be made.”
A spokesperson for NYIRC said that they have made translation services available for those that request them.
“We ask that people let us know if they need any accommodations, including a translator, when they sign up to attend a meeting or testify,” the statement said. “We have hired an Arabic translator for today’s hearing in Brooklyn, a Korean translator for tomorrow’s hearing in Queens and a Spanish translator for the hearing in Suffolk County.”
The next redistricting meeting in Queens will take place tomorrow, Nov. 17, at 3 p.m. at York College’s Milton G. Bassin Performing Arts Center.
For more information on the IRC hearings and how to participate, visit NYIRC.gov.
This story was updated Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 10:42 a.m.