New lead­ers em­brace civic duty

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By ADELINA ZHANG in New York For China Daily

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 read­ers@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

ADELINA ZHANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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