Opinions

Time the Voice of the African Immigrant Community was Heard in the US Polls

On November 3, the United States goes into elections to determine who will lead the country for the next four years.

Americans will be voting to either bring change in how the country has been governed over the last four years or retain the same leadership.

One group of Americans who will be actively involved in the elections will be a sizeable number of immigrants who are slowly angling for various leadership positions in order to have their voices heard and issues tackled.

Personally, I will be gunning for a position in the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, District 5 (Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie).

It will be very interesting to see how we, the immigrant community vote in these elections because time has come for us to have a say in how the country is governed.

I came to the US from Kenya in 2004 with a student visa, seeking higher education and over the years I have gone ahead to be an American national and a proud Minnesotan.

As a citizen, and a member of the immigrant community, we have our own issues which we feel need to be addressed.

For instance, in Minnesota we are facing challenges like the Opioid crisis, homelessness, education achievement gap, racial and ethnic disparities, tax levy increases with no accountability and transparency on spending and wasteful spending in Hennepin county.

These are issues that can be solved with good leadership both at the national level and at the local level.

In my campaigns I have focused on issues that directly affect the small business owner, a homeowner, common citizen, be it an immigrant or a local. Being a policy analyst, my campaigns have focused on five key areas – creating community wealth, closing achievement gaps, children protective services, safe and affordable housing and improving the quality of life for all residents.

I also realized that as immigrants, it is important to have a political say. If we are in this country and we are paying taxes, we need to vote, and we need to do something when it comes to some of these policies that directly affect us.

Therefore, while I will also be joining the rest of the Americans to vote, I will also be seeking a place to help change the lives of those in Hennepin County by offering myself for a leadership position.

Research shows that the U.S. foreign-born population, which I am part of has reached a record 44.8 million people — nearly half of whom are already naturalized citizens, and who in total account for nearly 14 percent of the American population.

That’s just one sign of how immigrant communities are emerging as a political force asserting themselves in American civic life.

While in the past most immigrants, particularly those from the developing world, saw securing US citizenship as the “ultimate goal” and were focused on getting “great jobs” and pursuing the “American dream,” things have changed and immigrants of all backgrounds have now become motivated to political action.

But the diverse and dispersed nature of the African population in the U.S. makes it hard for African voters to organize. Although there are concentrated population centers in several cities, including Minneapolis, Washington, Houston and New York City, the African diaspora does not speak with a single voice.

A lot of our African diaspora members are in the trenches and working, whether it’s in the medical field, whether it is transporting people, whether it’s bagging groceries, we are pretty much everywhere.

But I take pride in how immigrants in Minnesota have changed the political landscape at a pace never seen before.

We have at least 13 Black immigrant elected officials, including U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar; state Representatives Mohamud Noor and Hodan Hassan; and Mayor Mike Elliott of Brooklyn Center.

And now, in Minnesota is drawing more Black immigrants seeking political seats in federal, state and local governments, myself being one of them.

It is said that democracy works when people get involved, and we the immigrants in Minnesota are doing exactly that and we are running for office based on the civic values that first brought most of us here: equality, inclusivity and opportunity.

The United States is increasingly becoming much more diverse than it has ever been. I think it’s important to have people in elected office that reflect those demographic changes.

So, when we go to the polls on November 3, it will be a moment when the voice of the immigrant community must be heard louder and those going for positions be given an opportunity to show what they can do for America.

Boni Njenga is a Kenyan born American vying for a position in the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, District 5 (Bloomington, Richfield and Eden Prairie).