Boro Indian woman breaks barrier with electoral win

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Uma Sengupta won the race for Democratic district leader of the new 25th Assembly District last week and became the first Indian woman to be elected to a statewide office in New York, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) said.

Sengupta, who emigrated from India to New York in 1970, will serve in the same district as McLaughlin which stretches from Flushing to Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.

“People in the community have to bring up the issues,” she said. “They should get together and determine the priorities.”

Sengupta, founder and educational director of the Rainbow Montessori School in Flushing, was elected as one of the borough’s 72 Democratic district leaders, who collectively nominate judges, assign a percentage of polling inspectors on Election Day and, most importantly, endorse political candidates.

Sengupta said she wants to see Asians and South Asians enter the political process.

“There are many Asians in our community, and they are very diligent, but they don’t know how to get (political power),” she said. “Most Indians are settled in this community and don’t join the party and instead do fund-raising.”

McLaughlin said Sengupta is the first Indian woman to capture an elected position in state government in New York.

Sengupta said the Democratic Party is just one of the many organizations Indians and other ethnic minorities need to join to voice their collective political power.

“You have to be inside the system,” she said. “When you speak by yourself, no one listens, but when you are a group, people listen.”

As an immigrant, Sengupta emphasized the importance of grassroots activism and speaking out as tools for emerging ethnic minorities.

Sengupta said the universal key for minorities is learning English, so she has already organized free English lessons for immigrants to begin next month in Richmond Hill.

Her other priorities include increasing the number of doctors and clinics and providing adequate and affordable health care for the district’s senior citizens.

McLaughlin said Sengupta’s election is both great for the Democratic Party and the Indian community.

“One of the things I felt most passionate about was a vehicle to advance another generation of immigrants,” he said. “The fact that [Sengupta] will now be at the table will create a new level of participation and show the value of being a part of the government.”

Sengupta hopes to foster an open dialogue among the numerous minorities in her district to increase cultural awareness and decrease violent incidents that have come from a lack of community feeling, she said. She also wants the police to get involved in these dialogues.

“We need to increase programming for cultural exchanges,” she said. “We should think of our city not so much as a melting pot but as a United Nations of cultures.”

Sengupta, who declined to disclose her age, first got into politics as a teacher, she said, when parents would talk to her about their problems, such as immigration and caring for their own elderly parents.

General questions then turned into a genuine concern for those in her community and she wanted to help the people she was meeting, she said.

“You need cooperation from everybody,” Sengupta said. “Everybody has to write to the papers, everybody has to appeal.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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