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Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Egyptian Expatriates Call for Better Representation of MENA Communities in US


Wed 29 May 2024 | 06:48 PM
Ahmed Emam

New York Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and leaders from groups such as the New York Immigration Coalition and Malikah rallied support for a bill aimed at revamping demographic data collection for Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) residents in New York at the state Capitol.

According to Astoriapost, the proposal aims to separate MENA data from the "White" category, providing a more accurate representation and improving access to essential resources for an estimated 500,000 MENA individuals residing in New York State.

Following their rally, the legislation was successfully reported out of the Assembly Government Operations Committee to the Assembly floor.

This legislative move comes in the wake of a historical context where, since a 1944 legal ruling, persons from the MENA region have been categorized as “White by law” alongside European Americans in governmental records. This broad classification has obscured the specific challenges faced by these communities, such as language barriers, economic instability, and lack of access to targeted services, ultimately exacerbating disparities and limiting support from programs like Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) initiatives.

In her remarks, Assemblymember González-Rojas said: “Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) communities have been made invisible by our federal and state governments’ data collection methodologies despite having a strong and historical presence in districts like mine in Queens.”

“Lumping MENA communities into the ‘White’ category creates intentional systemic exclusion from programs and services dedicated to communities of color. Data is power,” she emphasized.

In turn, Rana Abdelhamid, Executive Director of Malikah, also underscored the urgency and necessity of the bill. “For many years, Middle Eastern and North African communities, like Egyptians in Little Egypt, haven’t been properly seen in official NYS data. This means challenges we face, like staying safe and having enough food, aren’t noticed and are erased.”

“This is why more than ever we need to pass this bill that creates a category for over 500,000 Middle Eastern and North African New Yorkers so we can more accurately depict our heritage and give NYS the ability to provide services and resources to our people better. We can no longer afford to be erased,” Abdelhamid noted.

Speaking to SEE, Mona El-Boghdady, Rana's mother explained that many representatives were initially hesitant to sign the amendment until they had discussions and convinced them. Some representatives wanted to delay the process for two years due to budget constraints, as the amendment would require changing various government documents related to citizens, such as election and school papers.

In the same connection, she mentioned that rallies were organized in different parts of the state to advocate for the rights of Muslim and Middle Eastern minorities. Rana Abdel Hamid and members of her organization visited the offices of representatives to persuade them to support the cause. Additionally, they gathered over 2,000 signatures from the community and continued to collect more support to increase pressure on the legislators.

As the bill moves to the Assembly floor for further debate and voting, its supporters continue to rally public and legislative support, emphasizing the broader implications for equitable resource distribution and recognition of diverse communities within New York State.