Crashing the Party

Given these kinds of self-imposed divisions, can one even speak of an immigrant agenda? Falcón says that "as newcomers get hit with police brutality, language discrimination, and so on, they move to a minority-group agenda. Look at Mexicans selling flowers on the street. It's Giuliani's police that are harassing them. Meanwhile, you have Mexicans belying stereotypes by organizing for unions."

Indeed, McHugh says that, increasingly, immigrants define their issues as "affordable housing, decent schools, health care"—in other words, "a working-class agenda." Even Sung Soo Kim, who founded the Small Business Congress, says that the city's economic boom has left many immigrant businesses behind, leading to a change in consciousness. "We project that under Giuliani, almost twice the number of our businesses will shut down as under Dinkins. And now everyone dances to the same song: quality of life. The fines, the revoked licenses—it has all led to coalitions of minorities, because we experience the same deprivations."

Still, it should be noted that Mexican immigrants' recent hard-fought union contracts were wrested from Korean-owned groceries. And just last week, workers won a back-wage settlement from Flushing's East River restaurant. They had fought for 9 years—with Julia Harrison's support—against restaurant owners who included some pillars of the Chinese American community.

Chung-Wah Hong: registering the future in Flushing
photo: Michael Sofronski
Chung-Wah Hong: registering the future in Flushing

The immigrant agenda, clearly, is still up for grabs. AALDEF's Margaret Fung suggests that the most important political quandary facing immigrants is the question of "what immigrant leaders will put forward, not only that they move forward."

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