Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Paisley Politicos of New York: Suketu Mehta

Suketu Mehta's latest, in the New York Times Magazine. It's primarily a profile of a Desi politico in New York named Alex Martins.

He's interested in Martins because he's made it his business to develop contacts in high places in city government, while traditionally South Asian immigrants in New York have been quite slow to enter politics. Here is what might be the thesis paragraph of Mehta's article:

Historically, every immigrant group that has come to New York has relied on people like Martins: a man of connections, a man you call when your son is caught shoplifting or your cousin needs a visa or your nephew needs a city job. He is not a politician -- not yet, at least -- but he is a political creature. He is the representative who helps new immigrants reach their elected representatives.

For the politicians whom Martins deals with, the benefits of helping a new immigrant are often not immediately apparent, because most of the immigrants are not citizens and can't vote. But some of these immigrants have money, and many of them will, eventually, become citizens and remember who came to their assistance when they were new to the country. The politicians are also keenly aware that New York's demographics are changing. This year, for the first time in history, non-Hispanic whites make up a minority of the city's voters. Which means that every New York politician seeking citywide office now has to form a coalition: no one can win on the basis of appealing to a single voting bloc, whether it's whites, blacks or Hispanics. Politicians will need the support of the Jains, the Catholics from Goa, the Sikhs - all the people who turn to Martins to get things fixed.

And there was one other bit that caught my eye:

The Democratic state senator John Sabini was recently walking along the street in Jackson Heights when he saw a Pakistani cabby driving a taxi that was clearly from New Orleans. Sabini flagged down the driver and discovered that the cabby was an evacuee and had his wife and 20-month-old baby with him in the car. Sabini found the cabby hotel accommodations through the city's marketing agency and a job through the owner of a taxi fleet. The taxi-fleet owner has since offered a job to any driver from the Gulf Coast. Shams Tarek, a Bangladeshi immigrant and top aide to Sabini, explains that Sabini's office will actively seek out Martins and ask him "if he knows any Sikh cabbies, or anybody from the South who's impacted by the hurricane."

I hadn't thought about the New Orleans taxi drivers. Has anyone seen NO taxis operating in New York lately?


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