Guyanese Americans Rally Together to Keep Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park Together
Sunday, Feb 12, 2012
Kaieteur News and Caribbean Daily -- A strong and unified coalition of Guyanese Americans took the Queens Borough Hall by storm last Tuesday, and demanded that the Legislative Task Force for Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), rectify their proposed Richmond Hill legislative district before submitting it for approval to the State Legislature. The coalition of community leaders, religious organizations, business owners, professionals and residents, staged rallies on Liberty Avenue, before boarding a large bus and dominating a packed public hearing at Queens Borough Hall.
District Leader and Community Advocate Albert Baldeo, and Vishnu Mahadeo, the President of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council rallied the troops together, backed by comprehensive data highlighting the fact that Richmond Hill is really "Little Guyana" in terms of demographics researched by John Albert and Rachana Shah of the Taking Our Seat organization and Jerry Vattamala of the Asian American Legal Defense Fund. Kris Gounden brought tears to many when he complained that the lack of political representation and insensitivities to the plight of minorities is causing him and his family to lose their home in Howard Beach, and that law enforcement and politicians ignored his family because he is a minority living in a white neighborhood.
Other organizations and advocates who testified at the hearing included Ashook Ramsaran of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, Richard David of the Indo Caribbean Alliance, Garth Marchant of the Civil Rights Alliance, Darrel Sukhdeo, Aminta Kilawan of SADHANA, Rohan Narine of Tri Murti Bhavan, Ali Najmi of SEVA, Maf Uddin of DC 37, Kawal Totaram and Kris Gounden. Those who held up placards to help convey a very unified and strong message that Richmond Hill's problems, issues and solutions were largely ignored by government because of the lack of political representation, included Leela Maret of DC 37, Rosanna Beaumont, Jeewan Persaud of Century 21 Crossroads Realty, Vishnu Bisram, Pandit Yoga, Stanley Raj, Bhola Ramsundar, Azeez, Ramesh Kilawan, Leyland Roopnaraine, Hari Dukhram and others.
Mr. Vishnu Mahadeo explained why the parameters of the proposed district left the community fragmented and marginalized. Jerry Vattamala and Rachana Shah submitted data and maps highlighting the growing, dominant population of Indo Caribbeans in Richmond Hill. District Leader Albert Baldeo testified that Indo Caribbeans and South Asians have proved to all that they are electable in City, State and Federal elections in New York City. "I am living testimony of this, and you just have to check the public records when I almost defeated a 20-year old incumbent State Senator-Serf Maltese, but lost by a few votes, in a seat that has over 310,000 constituents before I was elected District Leader," Baldeo said. He then asked the large crowd if they wanted to see Richmond Hill united as a district, and they gave a resounding "Yes" to the Task Force, leaving them in no doubt as to what they came for. "Gerrymandering must go," they demanded.
All of the speakers complained about the common problems-home foreclosures, closure of hospitals, medical centers and schools, kids being subjected to filthy, overcrowded trailer parks and locker rooms for classrooms, spiraling unemployment, increased taxes and the cost of living, and the lack of government services and funding. Some speakers threatened legal action for breaches of the Voting Rights Act.
Albert Baldeo summarized the case best when he said, "If you still harbor pause, just attend the Phagwah Parade which ushers in the spring, and you will see the hundreds of thousands of these invisible, transparent minorities who participate in one of the largest parades in the entire USA. Or visit JFK Airport Arrivals or Resorts World and you will be convinced as to who constitute the critical mass in Richmond Hill. You cannot suppress, divide and rule us any longer."