Photo: Thomas Hamed

New York Assemblymember Steven Raga Talks Growing Up In Queens, Nas, and His Work Representing the Filipino American Community

9 mins read

Made In Queens is a series of interviews with notable business owners, politicians and celebrities that make up the diverse community of Queens, New York. 

When Steven Raga was growing up in Queens, he never imagined that he would have a seat in Albany, representing his neighborhood as an Assemblymember for District 30. Born as the son of a single working-class mother in Woodside, the Queens politician studied long nights and worked toward providing a better life for his family. His hard work paid off as he received multiple graduate degrees from several different institutions, including two master’s degrees from Cornell University, a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from Baruch College, and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from Stony Brook University.

After obtaining his graduate degrees, Raga worked in various leadership roles for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the nonprofit breast cancer organization, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In August 2021, Raga was appointed the Executive Director of Woodside on the Move, a nonprofit organization with the mission to “create a stable and thriving community for vulnerable residents of Woodside and Western Queens.” Less than sixteen months later, Raga made history by becoming the first Filipino American elected into office in the state of New York. Despite all these major accomplishments, Raga never forgot where he came from and what he represents — Woodside, Queens.

Raga took time to stop by the Queens College campus for a conversation. In an exclusive interview with The Knight News, the Queens politician shared a rare insight into his childhood upbringing in Queens and what the neighborhood of Woodside means to him. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Knight News: “So you were born in Queens. Did you attend the public schools in your neighborhood?

Steven Raga: “I was in a few, but I was going back and forth. Most of my family was basically raised in the Woodside or Elmhurst schools. But I bounced around. I was in Woodside and then I was in Jamaica for a bit.”

Raga attended Van Buren High School in eastern Queens and said he is a product of New York City’s public school system. Like many native New Yorkers, Raga grew up riding public transportation and listening to hip-hop music during his teenage years. The Woodside native discussed his passion for hip-hop music and the cultural contributions of the hip-hop icons that make up our borough. 

TKN: “It’s the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. Is that something you are aware of, or do you have any musical tastes that you want to share?”

SR: “Yeah. Hip-hop for sure. Queens has a lot of contributions to that. And so it’s a real honor to see a lot of those Queens hip-hop icons still here. It’s good to see that they’re still here and we’re standing on their cultural contributions, for not just Queens but across the country.”

As Raga mentioned Queens hip-hop icons, one name that was constantly brought up as an icon from our borough was the Grammy award-winning musician Nas. Like many Queens natives, Raga has a high level of respect for the Queensbridge hip-hop icon. 

TKN: “Are you a fan of Nas?” 

SR: “Yeah of course. First of all, Nas was successful at what, 18? It took me a while more to find career success. I also think he’s naturally gifted. He has a high level of genius in his art and craft. I think, more on my end, I have to work a little bit harder for it. I’m not really endowed with those natural gifts and talents as Nas.”

At the age of seventeen, Nas made his musical debut on the song “Live At The Barbeque” on a track produced by fellow Queens native Large Professor. At just 18 years old, Nas signed a record deal with Columbia Records. At 20, the Queensbridge native released his critically acclaimed debut album “Illmatic.” 

Raga’s path to success was a little different. He started off as an intern and worked a few years in various internship roles early in his career after completing his undergraduate degree at Stony Brook University, spending much of his twenties working and pursuing multiple postgraduate degrees. After many years of hard work, he returned to the neighborhood of Woodside working for the nonprofit organization that he grew up around. 

TKN: “What does the neighborhood of Woodside mean to you?” 

SR: “It was a great experience working in Woodside. It was actually an honor when I got that job at Woodside on the Move. Previously, I was on their board. When the position of Executive Director opened up, originally, I wasn’t involved in the conversation. I was actually helping do the interviews. But after months of the interviews, I saw the opportunity to actually go ahead and lead the organization as the face of the neighborhood I care about.”

In August 2021, Raga was given the title of Executive Director of Woodside on the Move. After his election victory in November 2022, Raga vacated his spot as the Executive Director of Woodside on the Move and William Jourdain took over in his stead. Raga mentions that although his story is a positive one, there are many great leaders in the Queens community that can take a leadership role. 


One individual from our community that has shown strong leadership qualities is QC alum Ann Jenica Jose, who helped create a Port Authority high school science fair which saw great success and received recent news coverage. Jose, who also previously worked at Woodside on the Move under Raga, said that she enjoyed working with Raga as he is a huge advocate for the Filipino American community. 

Although there are over 4 million Filipino Americans in the United States, Raga was the first Filipino American elected into office in the state of New York. According to a report by the Pew Research Center, the 118th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse in U.S. history with 133 lawmakers identifying as either Black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian, Alaska Native or multiracial. The 118th Congress has a record number of women as well with 25 women holding seats in the Senate and 128 women serving in the House of Representatives. The New York State legislature reflects these trends.

New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Deborah J. Glick, the first openly LGBTQ member in the New York State Assembly, are two Queens College alumni that make up our New York State legislature. Raga expressed that diversity is a welcoming change, predicting that residents will see a lot more people from their communities be in leadership positions in the upcoming years. 

SR: “There are many people in the neighborhood that also can follow and take the lead. There are many other people in our diverse neighborhood that can take the mantle of leadership.”

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