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The New American Leaders Project interviews NALP’s Sayu Bhojwani. An immigrant to the US, and New York City’s first Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs, Sayu answers 5 key questions about what makes her, and NALP, tick.
1. Why did you start The New American Leaders Project?
Because I was tired of immigrant communities being ignored. In 2010, Arizona passed one of the harshest immigration measures of our time. Commonly referred to as the “Show me your Papers” law. SB 1070 was part of a wave of anti-immigrant measures snaking their way through state legislatures.
2. Aside from the representation gap, why did you focus specifically on immigrants?
One in every five Americans is an immigrant or a child of immigrant. If we aren’t included, then we can’t have an inclusive democracy.
3. How do we convince voters that immigrant candidates are not “others” but rather American leaders in their own right?
Our track record last year shows that Americans will support candidates who they trust to represent their community, regardless of ethnicity. In fact 67 percent of our Ready to Lead alumni won their seats in 2016. They won by talking to voters and sharing their vision for their community. That’s a simple strategy, but one that is often overlooked.
4. The 2016 election season and its aftermath have been especially hard on immigrant communities. Racist incidents have dramatically increased, and anti-immigrant legislation and raids are threatening our communities. How is NALP responding to this?
Well, I’m happy to report that this climate hasn’t suppressed people’s interest in running for office. In fact, the number of applicants for our program has doubled. That’s great, because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We need to grab a seat at the table and, change the policymaking menu so it is more inclusive and equitable.
5. Last but not least, we have to know, you run NALP, earned your Ph.D and are a working mom, how do you unwind?
Nothing gives me greater joy than cuddling with my child and enjoying a home cooked meal with her and my husband (especially if they have made it!). I also love yoga and have recently started meditating to survive the madness of this political moment.