New American Leaders fuels confidence in political hopefuls

New American Leaders, Anna Hernandez, Ghida Dagher, immigrants, political process, training

Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix; far left, Xouhoa Bowen, a member of the San Leandro, Calif. City Council and Cassandra Chase, a member of the Lakewood, Calif. City Council, participate in the New American Leaders’ National Women’s Training in Phoenix earlier this year. New American Leaders is a national, nonpartisan organization that helps immigrants and their allies join the political process. (Photo courtesy of New American Leaders/Shaunte Glover)

New American Leaders fuels confidence in political hopefuls

When Anna Hernandez lost her younger brother, Alejandro, 26, to a Phoenix Police shooting in 2019, it prompted her to become more involved in community organizing, but she said she was “a little hesitant” to seek an elected political seat as she had never run for office.

Democrat Hernandez, now the Phoenix state senator representing Legislative District 24, gained the knowledge and confidence she needed to take the leap for state Senate last year after she participated in programs that the national, nonpartisan organization New American Leaders holds to help immigrants and their allies join the political process.

While Hernandez was born and raised in Arizona, her parents immigrated to the United States from Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. Her father, Jose, died after he contracted Covid in November 2020 prior to vaccines being available. He did not have the opportunity to work from home as he had a maintenance position.

A friend told Hernandez about New American Leaders, so she participated in two rounds of the organization’s Ready to Win advanced campaign training sessions that provide tools to those who want to run for office or serve as a senior-level staff member on campaigns within the next two years. She also took part in New American Leaders’ Ready to Lead signature training program that singles out the immigrant experience as an asset for civic leaders, and she served on a panel during a recent New American Leaders’ National Women’s Training in Phoenix.

“I know in our culture … sometimes we think that we shouldn’t get involved in politics,” Hernandez said. “There’s a lot of disinformation that comes through because of that. We don’t know that we can go to city council meetings, that there’s school boards we can get elected to.”

Running for the Legislature also can be challenging financially as the legislative positions don’t pay too much, Hernandez said, but New American Leaders gave her a new outlook.

“I think the biggest one (benefit) for me was to really tap into my story, really be proud that I am first-generation, not be ashamed of it, be proud of it, lead with that boldness,” she said.

Hernandez defeated incumbent Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, in the Senate race during the August 2022 primary, advancing to the position after not facing any Republican challengers in the November general election. Some influential liberal groups, including Chispa Arizona and Progress Arizona, endorsed Hernandez.

New American Leaders, political hopefuls, House, Senate, training, Anna Hernandez
Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix

Hernandez met her district mate, Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, through New American Leaders training and they became friends. And Hernandez shared her experiences as a panelist at the New American Leaders’ Ready to Lead: National Women’s training in March in Phoenix.

She is among many New American Leaders alumni serving in elected positions or working in Arizona politics, including Ortiz, Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson; Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe; Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe; Rep. Leezah Sun, D-Phoenix; Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa; Rep. Cesar Aguilar, D-Phoenix and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

Ghida Dagher, CEO and president of New American Leaders, was 9 when she and her family came to the United States from Sierra Leone during Sierra Leone’s civil war. She and her family sought asylum from Sierra Leone. Before becoming leader of the organization, Dagher, a third-generation Lebanese Sierra Leonean, participated in its training herself in 2015.

“I was always an issue person,” she said. “This made me want to be more specific on supporting people.”

Carnegie Corporation of New York earlier this month honored Dagher and 34 other naturalized citizens whose actions and contributions have strengthened and enriched society and democracy.

New American Leaders aims to help immigrants, as well as refugees and children and grandchildren of immigrants and anyone who identifies with the “immigrant experience,” Dagher said.

“Our country overall, it has become younger and more diverse in its makeup,” she said. “Unfortunately, our representation in government hasn’t changed at the pace that our population has changed, so it’s really important that our elected officials represent us as a collective and to make all of our voices included in policymaking and decision-making at all levels of government.”

New residents to the United States often face many challenges in seeking political offices, including not coming from wealthy backgrounds and dealing with systemic and structural barriers, Dagher said.

Participants in New American Leaders’ signature training program, Ready to Lead, learn grassroots fundraising tactics from elected officials, practice messaging techniques, as well as become educated on pivoting strategies.

The organization’s Ready to Win is an advanced campaign training program for New Americans who want to run for office or serve as a senior level staff member on campaigns in the next two years. In that program’s The Candidate Track, attendees obtain media training and the chance to receive feedback on stump speeches and learn strategies for delivering messages to voters.

Through the Campaign Leadership Track, enrollees explore team management and identify and engage New American communities, along with learning how to keep supporters and volunteers committed.

The organization also helps those who want to run for office within two years with its New American Fellows program. It selects people with a high potential to seek political seats and offers monthly training sessions, as well as one-on-one coaching sessions. Elected officials mentor participants, who join a community of fellow New American and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders.

The National Women’s Training, like the organization’s other trainings, helps participantsown the power of their experiences and stories, showing them that they have what it takes to run, win, and lead,” but it goes even further, Dagher said.

“Sadly, we know that female politicians are three times more likely to face threats and harassment than their male counterparts,” she said. “And sadly, women of color are disproportionately subjected to online sexual harassment, racial abuse and threats of violence.”

At the recent training in Phoenix, participants had “candid conversations” about those topics, Dagher added.

Arizona is an important place for the organization’s training.

“After seeing the incredible organizing efforts of immigrants and allies across the state to fight SB1070, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, it was clear that Arizonans were ready for a new cohort of leaders and that New Americans were the leaders Arizona needed,” Dagher said. “Now over 10 years later, we see the incredible impact that New Americans have had and continue to have in shaping the political landscape in Arizona, including over a dozen New American Leaders alumni who are currently serving in elected office across the state.”