NIIC: Engaging communities and leaders

Lauren McCullough, Politics ’12

Recently, our entire class made a trip to Seattle to attend the fourth annual National Immigrant Integration Conference. Participation in the conference was an incredible opportunity that furthered complemented our collective work in immigration issues. The three days we spent there were fascinating. There were leaders, academics, officials and students from all over the globe, all individuals who are tirelessly devoting their lives to immigration issues.

This semester, I’ve been speaking with community leaders and representatives in the city of Sunnyside, in order to better understand minority representation and participation in local politics. Sitting in on panels in the “Active Citizenship” track, which covered representation, participation, organizing and electoral politics, enabled me to learn more about the field.

My favorite session was called “New Americans Represent! Immigrants as Elected Officials.” The panel featured minority representatives and various organizations that provide leadership training for minority candidates. Hearing the panelists speak was a valuable experience, and transformative for my own research.

The panel helped me better understanding the dynamics of civic engagement. After the panel, I was able to speak with Petra Falcon from Promise Arizona. Promise Arizona is an organization that recruits and trains new leaders and voters, and has had massive successes engaging communities and helping elect minority leaders. I asked how it might be possible to translate her statewide work to the more local level, and she gave me valuable feedback. While Sunnyside doesn’t have a similar civic engagement organization, Petra suggested I look into alternative methods of engaging candidates and communities, potentially through existing organizations, like local churches. This insight is proving immensely constructive for my interviews and research in the weeks following the NIIC.

Hearing Representative Cindy Ryu speak on the panel also helped me to feel inspired. Ryu has made history twice, the first time as the first Korean-American woman to be mayor in the United States, and again, as the first Korean American woman elected to the legislature. Hearing Ryu speak about her experience running for office reminded me of how important it is to have different perspectives in the political world. Minority candidates don’t always have the electoral campaigning skill-sets or fundraising networks as other candidates, but bring views which are essential for a thriving democracy.

This panel contextualized my work within broader issues of electoral politics and spoke to the value of having diversified representation. After the NIIC, I’m feeling ready to jump into the rest of my research.

 

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