Asian Americans in Hamtramck, Detroit fight to preserve voting bloc in redistricting process

By: - October 5, 2021 9:49 am

Members of the API community during a planning meeting. | APIA Vote-MI photo

As the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC) nears the end of its process to draw new legislative districts before the 2022 election, members of the metro Detroit Asian Pacific Islander (API) community are raising concerns.

API residents in Hamtramck and Detroit have flagged a proposed redistricting map they said would split their voting bloc among three state House districts.

Rebeka Islam, APIA Vote-MI executive director told the Advance that the API community is “underserved” and she believes that the redistricting commission is an opportunity to further educate and engagement our community about the process.

Rebeka Islam photo

“We all have the same needs and we’re trying to advocate for the same needs,” said Islam.

The MICRC has been working for months on drafting maps for the state Senate, House and congressional districts for months. The commission is expected to submit maps to the public by Oct. 12.

The 13-member panel, composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents, was formed after a 2018 state constitutional measure. Prior to that, the Legislature was in charge of redistricting, with the governor signing off on maps. MICRC’s deadline to approve final maps is Dec. 30. The new legislative district lines will go into effect for the 2022 elections and be in effect for the next 10 years.

APIA Vote-MI has been participating in redistricting community meetings. Sixteen of its members and supporters raised their concern during a Sept. 22 and 23 redistricting commission meeting in Detroit. In addition, APIA Vote-MI has held 13 town hall meetings in recent months, including two in Hamtramck. It has also drafted its own redistricting map that it has provided to MIRC.

Hamtramck is 21.5% Asian American. Sections of northeast Detroit, which borders Hamtramck also have a significant portion of Asian Americans residents.

Islam in June submitted written testimony to the commission:

“One example of why the commission should include parts of Detroit with Hamtramck is the ability to service immigrant communities with better language access materials in native languages,” she wrote. “There is a large demand for civic, health, and educational reading material in native languages, given the recent health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has highlighted and uncovered the need for more language access throughout Hamtramck and parts of Detroit.”

State Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) represents a portion of Detroit just north of Hamtramck and supports APIA Vote-MI’s effort. The Indian-American former gubernatorial candidate, who was born in Belgaum, India, and moved to the United States in 1979, urged the organization to continue to raise concern. 

“Now, we need to really get input from citizens,” said Thanedar. “We just have to keep doing that.”

Conant Avenue in Detroit | Ken Coleman

State Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) did not respond to a call and email. His district covers a large section of the API community in Detroit and Hamtramck. 

Edward Woods, MICRC’s communications and outreach director, said that the commission will continue to listen to all voices and will take APIA Vote-MI’s concerns and its proposed map into account.

“It is a [MICRC] proposed draft map, fluid in nature, so I would encourage everyone to provide in public comment and share how they feel but until the commission votes, all it is a proposed draft map,” said Woods.  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.