New leaders embrace civic duty
For immigrants coming to the US, the first big hurdle is getting here. The next and often harder one is learning how to make their voices heard and how to help their communities take full advantage of life in America.
The New American Leaders Project (NALP), a national organization that prepares first and second generation immigrants for civic leadership through training programs, held a panel discussion on Thursday in New York entitled Working on the Inside: How Being Appointed Prepares You for Elected Office.
The panel was moderated by Robin Brand, president of RMB Strategies, and featured Sonia Kotecha, appointee to the City of Austin Asian American Quality of Life Commission; Jorge Montalvo, policy advisor to the New York Secretary of State; Linda Sarsour, member of Community Board 10; and Gigi Li, chair of Community Board 3.
“We are in a diverse country, with diverse people, so we need to represent that diversity,” said Sayu Bhojwani, president and founder of NALP. “Diversity creates opportunities for conversations, learning and policy responsiveness.”
The panelists discussed the challenges they faced as immigrants and multicultural ethnic leaders and the solutions they found.
Li said she had focused on community outreach since she joined her community board in 2009 and as the first Chinese-American Community Board Chair in NYC.
“The question I got most often when I was running for chair was ‘Are you going to just work on issues in Chinatown?’ My answer was that Chinese issues, issues that are in Chinatown, are the same as they are on the Lower East Side,” said Li.
Li said that Chinatown was an interesting place, where one sees issues different from what a general tourist may see.
“Chinatown is interesting, linguistically and geographically,” said Li, who is the third generation in her family to live in NYC’s Chinatown. “If elected officials want community boards to represent their community, then it’s important that leaders on the board reflect their communities.”
Panelists also discussed the importance of Asian Americans being represented in the government. Kotecha said that she was a natural fit for her position in the city government and recognized the issues of Asian Americans. “The number of Asian Americans elected in the city isn’t very high, so it’s important that we are represented in the city, given our population growth,” said Kotecha. Montalvo said that his job as an advisor to the New York Secretary of State puts him on the inside where he can make a difference. He also had some advice for members of the organization, and the country’s leaders.
“You can make changes that affect people’s lives,” he said. “But at times it is limited. You are a part of the government that functions for all of the people. We have other levels of government that don’t function and you can see the many actions that this has lead us to, especially on immigration. Something that we agree that is broken but no one has made any action. A functioning government is important.” Contact writer at email@example.com
From Left: Moderator Robin Brand, president of RMB Strategies, Jorge Montalvo, advisor to the New York Secretary of State, Linda Sarsour, member of Community Board 10, Gigi Li, chairwoman of Community Board 3, Sonia Kotecha, appointee of City of Austin Asian American Quality of Life Advisory Commission, at the New American Leaders Project panel, WorkingontheInside:HowBeingAppointedPreparesYouforElectedOffice, on Thursday.