“By helping first- and second-generation Americans prepare to get on the ballot, we are working towards a fairer, multiracial democracy.”
I started New American Leaders (NAL) eight years ago, when I was 43. Our mission is to recruit and train immigrant leaders to run for and win political office and to challenge assumptions about who should lead our democracy. More than 600 people, of all ages and backgrounds, including many nontraditional candidates such as brand-new citizens, first-generation college students, union workers, and those who were formerly undocumented, have taken our training; nearly 10 percent of them now hold elected or appointed office. By helping first- and second-generation Americans prepare to get on the ballot, we are working towards a fairer, multiracial democracy. We want as many people as possible to understand that each of us has a responsibility to make democracy work for all of us and not just a select few.
The problem I’m trying to solve
I first came to the United States from Belize, where I grew up, to attend the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. I didn’t think I was going to stay, but I was captivated by America and its opportunities. On my way to becoming an American citizen (I cast my first vote on the historic day of September. 11, 2001), I became more and more committed to America and its democratic ideals. But I also saw how our political system does not reflect how varied America is in gender, class and ethnicity. The United States has the largest immigrant and most diverse population in its history, yet the current Congress is 81 percent white and 81 percent male. Even at the state and local level, only 2 percent of over 500,000 seats are held by Latino or Asian Pacific Islander Americans, our two largest immigrant populations.
In some instances, Immigrants are being called animals, gang members, terrorists, freeloaders. In reality, immigrants open many small businesses, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, eagerly invest in education, and pay a great deal of taxes into public funds. No one believes in American democracy more than immigrants, because we fought so hard to get here. One in every 5 Americans is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Without us participating, democracy isn’t inclusive democracy.