This article fresh from City and State NY calls Democratic Congressional candidate Nate Shinagawa “the Jeremy Lin of politics”. While the article starts off with an extended metaphor comparing both Grace Meng and Nate Shinagawa to great baseball players in the game of politics, it then changes flavor as quickly as someone can pen “At this point, Jeremy Lin comparisons are inevitable”.
Michael Benjamin states, “Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa’s primary win is remarkable because he won in an overwhelmingly non–Asian-American district. His victory is what the Voting Rights Act was intended to make possible: enable voters to choose candidates without governmental interference or racial prejudice.”
However, to argue that Shinagawa’s victory is evidence of the Voting Rights Act being successful and (somehow in Benjamin’s mind) unnecessary is the racist claim that we live in a post-racial society. This is especially true in politics when uncountable obstacles, voting ID requirements being one, keep communities of color from voting. While I commend Benjamin for highlighting Shinagawa’s many accomplishments and milestones of experience as a county legislator and healthcare administrator, this kind of call to remove New York from under the Voting Rights Act is downright dangerous. One man’s victory because he has the valued qualities voters want to see in their representation does not mean that New York politics is somehow immune to racism and “has effectively overcome its past treatment of minority voters and candidates”. It doesn’t work like that, buddy.
And besides all of the post-racial colorblind language, can we talk about how Benjamin immediately and completely unnecessarily draws a confusing comparison to Jeremy Lin?
After catching a ride to Ithaca, I headed to Nate Shinagawa’s campaign headquarters. I was really interested in doing a story on him since he’s an Asian American running in a mostly white district and seeing how that works and how he handles possible obstacles is an inspiration to younger Asian Americans looking to get involved in public service.
After settling in and meeting the team that night, the next morning we headed out on a very long and very expansive road trip. Since the congressional districts have changed, many people in both the old and new districts didn’t know who their representative was anymore. Previously, the current geographic area was split between the 27th, 22nd and 29th district. With the redistricting, the newly established 23rd district includes: Tompkins, Seneca, Tioga, Ontario, and Chatauqua counties.
The first stop was a bakery in Elmira, New York. Elmira has been an economically struggling area of New York since Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972 destroyed most of the commercial area. Since the district is almost the size of New Jersey, there were a lot of people who had yet to meet Nate and see what he’s all about. The Southern Tier area is hungry for jobs, and often times this gets mistranslated as a want or need for hydrofracking to come to the area. Because Nate’s already been a Tompkins county legislator for six years, he understands what a large portion of his district is calling out for. After Nate spoke to several of the people enjoying breakfast at the bakery, we headed off to a Barnes and Noble to kick off canvassing with some volunteers.
The next stop was back in Ithaca for the Juneteenth celebration. The festival was outside of the South Side Community Center, a community run program for neighborhood youth to learn DJing skills, dance, get help with their schoolwork, and understand important issues relevant to them in society. The center showed off some beautiful banners and paintings done by a group of girls in a program to teach them that beauty is not what is on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine. Their definitions of beautiful and their bodies belonged to themselves and only themselves. There were also dance performances by two young girls, a rap about the community center by a group of kids, and a hula hooping contest. Nate, the campaign team, and I walked around meeting members and leaders of the community while enjoying the beautiful Saturday.
Around 1:30, we met up with Nate’s sister Chibo at the Ithaca Cooperative Extension for the Ithaca Vincent Chin 30 event. Unfortunately the Albany event fell through, but the crowd at the Ithaca event was a great opportunity to meet some local student leaders in the Asian American community while participating in an amazing event for Asian Americans.
Because the district is mostly white and rural, a Republican was elected to Congress in the last election. The trip this weekend was not only to get a feel for the district, it was also to welcome and meet the new members. On the way to Dunkirk, the campaign team stopped at a cherry festival where Nate talked to some Sunday loungers.
After a VERY long day of traveling and being the only Asians in most of the places we visited, the day was finally over. DAMN, Nate’s got a lot of land to cover! I am a strong believer that as people of color, we HAVE to stick together. If you’re in the 23rd district, remember to vote in tomorrow’s primary election! If you’d like to volunteer or donate, go to http://nateshinagawa.com.