Featured Alum: Grace Meng ’93
In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we are featuring Stuy alumna and U.S. Congresswoman, Grace Meng, JD ’93. Grace is the first and only Asian American Member of Congress from New York State and currently serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Grace was also one of the honorees for the 2022 Benefit for Stuyvesant. To meet other distinguished alumni like Grace, make sure you attend the 2023 Benefit for Stuyvesant at Tribeca Rooftop on May 23!
In November 2022, Grace Meng was elected into her sixth term in the United States House of Representatives, representing New York’s 6th Congressional District, a congressional district located entirely in Queens, NY. A proud daughter of immigrants, she has never forgotten where she came from or who she fights for back home. As a child growing up in the most diverse county in America, Grace quickly came to believe that every person deserves a seat at the table. Whether young or old, rich or poor, she believes every voice deserves to be heard.
In a recent interview with SHSAA, Grace reflected on her time at Stuyvesant noting that what she really appreciated about Stuyvesant were the many diverse opinions and backgrounds of people that she met there and how students were accepting of each other’s differences. “There weren’t cliques like in the typical high school experience,” she said, “I could be friends with an athlete and also someone on the math team. There were no walls between students or divisions in the friendships that we could make. Everyone was accepted for who we were. I think that experience helped me be more confident in who I am, and that contributed a lot to the person that I am today.” In fact, Grace also met her husband Wayne Kye, DDS ’93, a professor at New York University’s College of Dentistry, at Stuyvesant. They both took Mr. Murray Kahn’s 10th-grade Chemistry class at Old Stuy together.
Having never thought of going into politics when she was younger, Grace didn’t run for student government at Stuy nor did she take any political science classes in college. However, even though she didn’t expect to go into politics, she was always fascinated with the world of government. “I had a few internships [in government agencies during] college and law school and I noticed right away that there were not a lot of [Asian] women like me in the room. In fact, there usually weren’t any Asians in the room at all, and I realized how much I wanted to be there to be part of the action.” Through her personal experiences and professional internships, each step brought Grace closer to her eventual decision to run for office. Her conviction to lift every voice and her experience in seeing her community left out of the conversation prompted Grace to begin her professional career as a public interest lawyer before serving two terms in the New York State Assembly.
A top-of-mind issue for Grace in recent years has been advocating for victims of COVID-19 hate-crimes. Asian Americans bear the brunt of the increase in violence during the pandemic; the organization Stop AAPI Hate documented over 6,600 reported hate incidents against Asian Americans from March 2020 to March 2021 but the real number is probably a lot higher. The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act of 2021 was introduced by Grace and Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and signed into law by President Biden in May 2021. The legislation aims to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels by boosting public outreach and ensuring reporting resources are available online in multiple languages. It also directs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to expedite the review of hate crimes related to COVID-19 and authorizes state and local governments to conduct crime-reduction programs to prevent and respond to hate crimes.
In February of 2017, Grace was elected Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, a post she held for 4 years. And while Grace remains one of the 15 youngest Democrats in Congress, she has been ranked the 8th most-effective legislator in the Democratic Party according to the Center for Effective Lawmaking. She serves as Chair of the ASPIRE PAC through which she supports Asian American candidates across the country, and works to ensure that Asian American voices and concerns are heard in the political process. We asked her about what motivated her to take on these leadership roles. Grace said, “After 2016, I felt like political candidates and elected officials were not doing a good enough job reaching out to the Asian-American community. And I really wanted to be a part of changing that. I wanted to share some of what we’d done locally in my corner of Queens to reach out to Asian-American communities nationally.” The leadership posts allowed Grace to visit different Asian communities in 20 states and made her realize that “we need to strengthen our national Asian network,” she says, “because the issues that Asian communities experience in one state may have occurred in another and there are examples and best practices that we can share with one another.” In 2020, Asians voted at the fastest growing rate compared to any other community, with voting percentage going up by some 300% in some places since the last presidential election.
We need to strengthen our national Asian network because the issues that Asian communities experience in one state may have occurred in another and there are examples and best practices that we can share with one another.
When we asked Grace what advice she has for the aspiring student or Stuyvesant alum that is interested in getting involved in politics, she says, “Get involved! All politics is local, so first get involved in your interest area and it will flow from there. And make sure to do it because you care, and not just because you want people to vote for you.”