The 2023 - 24 Georgia General Assembly has been called the most diverse ever, with 83 people of color among its 236 members. That includes over a dozen first and second-generation immigrants–and of those, at least 10 were just elected, the vast majority of them, Democrats. Brought to you by ACC x 285 South.
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Georgia’s new legislative session began with a long list of historic firsts: First Palestinian and Muslim woman in the State House. First South Asian woman in the State Senate. First Afro-Latinos in the Legislature. First Asian-American Pacific Islander caucus. Most-ever Muslims and Latinos in office.
This year’s General Assembly has made headlines as the most diverse ever, with 83 people of color among its 236 members. Among them – over a dozen first and second-generation immigrants–and–at least 10 of whom were just elected. What’s more, almost all of them are Democrats, in a Legislature where Republicans control both houses.
“My mom lived in a mud hut with no electricity and no running water, and within one generation she gets to see her daughter elected to the state senate,” said Nabilah Islam, one of three Muslim immigrants just elected to the Legislature, at a Voices of Muslims dinner last month at the Al-Noor Banquet Hall in Norcross. Islam grew up in Lawrenceville after her parents immigrated there from Bangladesh.
Atlanta Civic Circle is talking to these new lawmakers in our Legislature to find out what the shifts in its makeup could mean for an increasingly diverse Georgia, where over 10% of the state’s 10.9 million people are first-generation immigrants, according to the latest U.S. Census.
We’re starting with state Rep. Solomon Abesanya (D-Marietta), who grew up in Nigeria and moved to East Cobb in 2015, where he owns two Kale Me Crazy franchises.
It didn’t register with local media that five Nigerian-Americans, including Abesanya, just got elected to the state House of Representatives, but the Nigerian diaspora did. “I got so many messages from people all over the world,” Abesanya told us, including the president of Nigeria.
Many of Georgia’s new lawmakers were born in countries all over the world, from Nigeria to South Korea to Pakistan, and are juggling multiple identities and the interests of multiple communities inside of and outside of their districts.
Immigrant rights advocates are hoping this new representation will mean progress on issues like allowing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients who’ve grown up in Georgia to pay in-state college tuition and ensuring undocumented immigrants can obtain driver’s licenses.
“There are a lot of access issues,” says Aisha Yaqoob, the executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, which supports progressive candidates.
It’s hard to pinpoint what factors are driving the increase in representation, but organizers say a combination of outrage at the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies, the maturation of Georgia’s immigrant communities, and years of effort by community leaders to build civic and political participation have all played a role.
“For a very long time, [the Legislature] was very old white men, educated lawyers,” says Yaqoob. “In the past, there just weren’t very many people that ran from our communities.”
She says things started to shift during the Trump administration, when many immigrants felt under attack. “People were outraged and mobilizing against the administration.”
Yaqoob herself ran (and lost) in 2018 for the House District 97 seat in Gwinnett County that Ruwa Romman just won, becoming the Legislature’s first Palestinian-American. As a hijab-wearing, Pakistani-American, Yaqoob questioned whether she was even a viable candidate. “Can I mobilize support from people who are not Asian American or Muslim?” she wondered.
But seeing Stacey Abrams on the ballot pushed her to run. “If Abrams can run for governor, then okay–I guess I can run for this small house seat,” she remembers thinking.
In the Latino community, people have also been getting more involved, but it still isn’t easy to convince them to run for office, says David Garcia, the policy and advocacy director for the GALEO Impact Fund, a nonpartisan group that supports Latino political candidates.
Running for office requires time and resources, and not everyone can manage it without overburdening their already busy lives, he says. “A large percentage of the Latinos here are first or second-generation. … Their priorities include starting a family or a successful career.”
“A big part of our job is equipping young Latinos with the necessary tools and knowledge to seize opportunities to run for office when they present themselves,” Garcia adds.
In the current state Legislature, it seems those seeds are starting to bear fruit.
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