Candidates from immigrant backgrounds fared well in the 2020 elections — an outcome that owed much to New American Leaders (NAL), founded a decade ago and since led by TC alumna Sayu Bhojwani (Ph.D. ’14) to recruit and prepare first- and second-generation Americans to run for political office. [Read a profile of Bhojwani that appeared in TC Today magazine in 2019.]
NAL did not crack the ranks of Congress (one of its biggest successes was the election of Deborah Gonzalez as Georgia’s first Latinx district attorney). Still, 73 of 112 NAL alumni (65 percent) won their general elections in 2020, convincingly demonstrating, in Bhojwani’s words, that “candidates of color can win in any district in the country” and that “progressive messages — Medicare for All, increasing the minimum wage” — resonated nationwide.
“People want leaders they can connect with and who feel their pain,” said Bhojwani, author of People Like Us: The New Wave of Candidates Knocking at Democracy’s Door (New Press 2018). “The far right was saying, ‘Do these “socialist” messages really work?’ but the bottom line was really, ‘Are the candidates going to fight for me?’ And when a candidate has struggled economically or is a first-generation college student or is new to the community or to the U.S., or grew up in foster care or has run a small business, those are all indicators of the American lived experience.”