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Beyond Voting: Class Focuses on Running for Elected Office


The New American Leader Project (NALP) and Promise Arizona, a grassroots community group, held a candidate training session this weekend and provided 23 people from diverse backgrounds insight into the importance of serving in elected office.

Sayu Bhojwani of the New American Leaders Project led a discussion on Sunday with local elected officials as part of two-day training program aimed at helping immigrants who plan to run for public office. Photo courtesy of Promise Arizona

The training, held in Phoenix, included information on how to run a campaign, work with voters, assess leadership skills and understand policy, including immigration. NALP, a national nonpartisan organization that works with immigrants on leadership issues, partnered with Promise Arizona, a grassroots group dedicated to Latinos and civic participation, during the Saturday and Sunday training session.

“This project is not, by any means, aimed only at Latinos, but given our substantial Latino immigrant population and our community’s growing influence overall, we believe that…(this) training is the perfect complement to the ongoing efforts in Arizona to grow the base of Latino voters,” Petra Falcon, Promise Arizona executive director, said in a statement.

In Arizona, Latinos account for more than 30 percent of the estimated 6.6 million residents. That portion could grow to 50 percent in a generation, the groups said. About 40 percent of Latinos in the state and the country, they added, are foreign-born residents. Organizers added that about one in five people in the country are either immigrants or were born in the United States with at least one immigrant parent.

“The clout of communities of color is on the rise, but we don’t only need more minorities going to the polls, we need candidates who understand their life experiences and are ready to lead,” Falcon said.

Maria Castro, an Arizona State University student, talked about her immigrant parents and how she has seen the need for elected officials to represent community views so that as many people as possible can benefit from policy decisions.

“This workshop is important because so many of us want to make a difference,” she said in a statement. “One of the most effective ways to do that is by running for office.”

Mario Lugay, a program coordinator at the Phoenix training, explained that many of the participants are interested in running for public office within five years. “While they already have the passion they need to lead, this project helps them cultivate the right skills to make a campaign happen,” Lugay said.

Pedro Lopez, a NALP program graduate, became the youngest school board member in Phoenix’s Cartwright School District last year. At his training class, he learned about the importance of being pithy on the campaign trail.

Chris Avila, standing, an immigrant who has received “deferred action” status hopes to become a U.S. citizen and run for public office. He participated in the New American Leader Project training. Photo courtesy of Promise Arizona.

“I think the single most effective lesson I learned (during the training last year) was honing in my 90-second stump speech,” he said. “You have to tell people who you are and what you stand for, and you have to (have) that message down to 90 seconds or less.”

Before the Phoenix training started, NALP said it had trained more than 230 first- and second-generation immigrants since 2010. About half of the alumni are Latino and 30 percent are Asian American, Pacific Islanders or South Asians. Other alumni are from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and other countries.

Promise Arizona is a membership organization that focuses on helping immigrants, especially Latinos, engage in civic participation. The grassroots group grew out of the anti-immigrant atmosphere in the state.


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