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Photo via Twitter/State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic
State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic hosted her eighth annual Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month as a virtual town hall discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the AAPI community.

State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic hosted her eighth annual Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebration as a virtual town hall with panelists discussing the efforts needed to support the AAPI community as the city gradually meets the benchmarks for reopening on May 27. 

The panelists included Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee and Queens College President-Designate Frank Wu. 

“These celebrations have always served as a time to reflect on the strength in our diversity and our collective commitment to empowering others, and this holds true now more than ever,” Rozic said. “But as we navigate the realities of COVID-19, let us also use this time to reimagine a path forward drawing on the lessons we have learned and to honor those in the AAPI community on the frontlines of the pandemic.” 

During the virtual town hall, the lawmakers discussed post-coronavirus recovery for small businesses and barriers to essential services through the lens of lawmaking and community partnerships. 

Since March, the emergence of COVID-19 in New York City has put a spotlight on pre-existing inequities experienced by minority and immigrant communities. From food insecurity to difficulties filing for unemployment benefits to alarming infection rates, these are challenges that must address socio-economic injustice in the wake of the pandemic, according to the lawmakers. 

“We haven’t always applied resources equally to communities of color — the communities that have pre-existing health conditions, and that’s why there was a spike in COVID hospitalizations and so much tragedy in communities in Queens and the Bronx,” Stringer said. 

According to Stringer, it’s time to take a different approach when it comes to resources and budgeting by deciding how to invest in housing, healthcare and education. 

“We have to allocate where the need is the greatest and how we can invest in a healthcare system that’s equal to everyone, and how we can invest in communities where there’s a tremendous immigrant population that runs small businesses,” Stringer said. “If we don’t do something bold, they will not open no matter what the rhetoric is.” 

After the first wave of Payroll Protection Program loans were rolled out in April and left many small businesses without funds, Meng said they’re voting on legislation this week to make further changes to the bill. 

“There were a lot of problems when it was first rolled out — a lot of our mom and pop businesses that we love and know about weren’t getting them,” Meng said. “We still don’t have enough transparent information, but there were probably larger businesses that got prioritized or were favored.”

For Asian Americans across the state, there were challenges that coincided with an alarming rise in discriminatory behavior exposed by the virus and fueled anti-Asian rhetoric displayed on the national level. 

According to Lee, during this unprecedented time, it’s important to be in solidarity with fellow communities of color. 

“People have been stepping up and partnerships have been born with creative and innovative ways to serve. It’s been both heart wrenching and heartwarming,” Lee said. “We know what it’s like to have conditional existence and conditional Americanism — it’s not unique to our community. If we can empathize with that and if we can feel that pain, the humiliation, the unfairness and mistreatment, we should be collectively outraged at mistreatment and unfairness to our fellow sisters and brothers in communities of color.” 

Shifting to education, Stavisky and Wu noted the importance of broadening education and helping programs across the city and state. 

“We have worked through many lobbying efforts with our federal representatives as well as the government’s office,” Stavisky said. “CUNY particularly is under siege right now, and we are concerned about potential cuts to the CUNY system and Queens College as a result of the economic system.” 

Wu, who will become the first person of Asian descent to lead Queens College, said there must be hope and faith that institutions throughout the city will thrive in the post-coronavirus recovery stage. 

“We have to be confident that CUNY and Queens College will go on — that it’s there and it will be resolved and emerge much stronger,” Wu said. “Higher education is the engine of the American dream and that’s what Queens College is about.” 

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