Yuh-Line Niou Urges Chinatown Residents to Claim Their Power

A rising progressive star comforts her community and demands an end to business as usual in Albany.

John Tarleton Mar 27, 2021

Yuh-Line Niou has been one of the most outspoken members of the New York State Assembly since being elected in 2016 to Sheldon Silver’s former seat in Lower Manhattan. 

Last Sunday, Niou spoke at a rally for Asian American lives at Columbus Park, a popular gathering spot for the local Chinatown community. The rally was held five days after a gunman killed eight people, including six Asian American women, at three Asian-owned spas in the Metro Atlanta area. 

Once you start watching this short speech, it’s hard to stop. The emotions are raw and the analysis is unflinching. 

Video by Sue Brisk. 

In recent years New York’s musty old state legislature has received an infusion (or is it an invasion?) of boldly progressive new members. Like Niou, they are mostly young, female and people of color. They fuse the personal and the political and don’t hesitate to indict deeply entrenched systems of racism, sexism and classism and demand fundamental change. Welcome to the future.

“Until our systems are made in our image, we’re here to dismantle theirs.” 

Niou is reflective of all of these trends. In her comments, she mourns the murdered spa workers. She reflects on the similarities between their life stories and those of her own immigrant mother’s before pivoting to a searing description of the structural racism that has marginalized her community and made the past year’s surge in anti-Asian hate crimes possible. 

“Until our systems are made in our image, we’re here to dismantle theirs,” she said. “… Racism is state-sanctioned. Every single one of our policies, every single one of the things that happens through law. All of our history, it is rooted in racism. It is rooted and founded to keep the few people who benefit in power. And it is to keep us from reaching it.”

That same structural racism, she notes, has led to her community being shortchanged in Albany. When she announces that she has garnered $300,000 for her district in the state budget, the listens intently. When she explains to them that it’s a mere $300,000 out of a $174 billion annual state budget, the boos begin. Every day is a struggle. For Niou, every day is also an opportunity to teach and to inspire. 

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