Student Profile: Sayu Bhojwani
Published in Inside - Volume XVI, No. 7
Getting Them in the Game
Sayu Bhojani is helping immigrants engage in the American political process
By Suzanne Guillette
No one would argue that immigrants will be better served if they learn to advocate for themselves through the American political process. But Sayu Bhojwani believes that the rest of the country stands to benefit, as well.
“One of the biggest challenges that our nation faces is engaging its citizens in civic and political life,” says Bhojwani, a doctoral student in Politics and Education who served as New York City’s first-ever Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs from 2002-04. “Over the years, we have seen a decline in civic participation.” Yet immigrants have historically revitalized the political process. “When you consider that nearly one in five Americans is an immigrant or a child of immigrant parents, we have to create in our immigrant populations a sense of efficacy and ownership in political life.”
To that end, Bhojwani has founded the New American Leaders Project (NALP), a non-profit organization that gives civic-minded immigrants the political skills and knowledge to represent their communities. The group will offer its first training sessions this summer in New York, Michigan and Illinois.
Bhojwani was born in India, moved to Belize as a child and came to the United States two decades ago to attend college. She has previously earned TC master’s degrees in English Education and immigrant education, punctuated by a stint teaching New York City’s public schools.
“I guess I get a seven-year itch when I’m away from TC,” Bhojwani says.
As Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Bhojwani was tasked with ensuring that New York City agencies create linguistically and culturally suitable policies for New York’s diverse immigrant populations, as well as programs that help immigrants and immigrant-run organizations navigate city government. It was rewarding work, but after becoming frustrated with government bureaucracy, she worked in private philanthropy, recruiting immigrants to run for political office.
In her current stint at TC, Bhojwani is focusing on the role schools can play in introducing immigrant children to the political process.
“I have always striven to bring immigrant adults into civic and political life,” she says. “Likewise, my academic work has been all about preparing children psychologically to be voters. As I work to combine my academic research with real-world experience, TC is helping me become more effective at bringing immigrants into the political process across the entire life cycle.”