NEW YORK – On a bright sunny and sultry day in Queens in the short street corner on 69th Street in Woodside, Steven Raga took a brief respite from the start of his political career by ducking into Promdi restaurant.
Slight beads of sweat were gathering at the top of his head as clutched the signature forms he was holding.
Raga, whose parents hail from Laguna, is 32. He is a first generation Fil-Am who has been a long-time activist in the community.
“This is very entry-level,” he told a small group of reporters of his bid for Committeeman in Queens County in New York City. The district covers Woodside, Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst.
“You want a seat at the table…to get our voices heard,” he said.
He needs to get 300 signatures by the end of the month to get on the ballot for the September primary.
“The election is for a Democratic Party official seat and it currently looks like I am running unopposed. So if I win in the September Primary, I would presumptively be the winner of the overall election,” he elaborated in an interview with Rappler.
Since the district is heavily Democrat, the winners in the primary are almost guaranteed their seats as committeemen.
“In Queens, you have to be a Democrat,” he said.
It seems the move into electoral politics is long in coming for a guy who has an extensive pedigree in community activism.
A seat at the table
He is the New York State Chairman and member of the National Board of Governors of the National Federation for Filipino-American Associations and was appointed a member of the Queens Community Board 2 by Borough President Melinda Katz. The board serves Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside and Maspeth in New York City. Raga is likewise a board member for Woodside on the Move, the oldest advocacy organization in the area, celebrating its 40th year in September.
He also holds advanced degrees on Public Policy from Stony Brook, Public Administration from Baruch, and International Human Rights Law from the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
His bid for office is supported by the newly formed Filipino American Democratic Club of NY, where he is the vice president. His group, led by their President Aries Dela Cruz, is now busy looking for more candidates they can field in the boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island.
Raga feels strongly that Filipino-Americans should be more assertive in American politics.
“A seat at the table leads to everything else,” he said.
“Having a vote (in) … the Democratic party within my District will give Fil-Ams a voice on what the Democratic party needs to (do to) help us in Woodside and Jackson Heights. The more we can convert Filipinos living in the area to register to vote, and register for the Democratic Party, the more influence Filipinos will have altogether.”
Filipino-Americans are the second biggest Asian-American group in the country, but they punch below their weight when it comes to being a force in elections from the local to the state or federal level.
When Raga and 15 signatures were gathering signatures for his petition that warm Saturday afternoon, they managed to get 50 people to sign his form.
“My overall target is 300, but we had 100 signatures filled out within the afternoon on Saturday. How many of them are Filipinos? One,” he declared.
“The Filipinos who are eligible to vote are either (1) unregistered to vote, (2) unregistered as a Democrat, or (3) did not live within the District. It shows how much we need to educate our own community on the basics of the American/New York political process,” Raga explained with some resignation.
Part of his motivation for running is fueled by the beating death about two years ago of a Filipino-American in the area.
“Where was the united effort from public officials to apprehend the suspect? There was none, and a lot of that is because the Fil-Am community is not committed to voting in a united bloc in the area under the Democratic Party, and effectively can’t vote anyone in or vote anyone out,” he said. – Rappler.com
Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics and regional security. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He founded the Southeast Asia Commodity Digest, which is an affiliate of Informa Economics research and consulting. He is known for his extensive knowledge of agriculture and the El Niño phenomenon and his views have been quoted in news reports.