The New American Leaders Project

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The New American Leaders Project (NALP) recruits people with a track record of civic involvement and trains them in the key skills needed for leadership. Executive Director for Promise Arizona, Petra Falcon and Pedro Lopez, NALP participant and member of the Cartwright School District Governing Board, talk about the project.

Jose Cardenas: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Find out about a project recruiting and training people for skills needed for civic leadership. A radio talk show hopes to strengthen ties between the Mexican American and the Jewish communities. The American leaders project, NALP, is a nonpartisan group encouraging immigrants to run for office across the country. First, here's what the project is all about.

Narrator 1: I was born in El Salvador but I grew up in Los Angeles, California.

Narrator 2: My family immigrated.

Narrator 3: My parents migrated from El Salvador.

Narrator 2: I am a new American.

Narrator 3: I am a new American.

Narrator 1: Growing up I was told that I didn't belong, that L.A. was not my home. But I see myself as -- see myself as part of the larger immigrant story.

Narrator 3: My biggest fear in the 80s was to come home from school and learn my mother had been deported. You realize the only way to help the marginalized and oppressed is to become a leader in your community yourself.

Narrator 2: It gives us tools to position ourselves as emerging leaders.

Narrator 1: The new American leaders project is not only a network but also like a family, a family I can go to when I need help in my professional development goals.

Narrator 3: As an immigrant woman the experiences you bring to the table are not always considered. We see things differently. That allows you to develop that conversation we all need to have.

Narrator 2: We're empowering communities to speak for themselves and using technology to break down traditional barriers.

Narrator 1: It gave me the campaign fund-raising tools that I needed.

Narrator 2: it has a national network that no matter where you go you connect with someone whether D.C., New York, Arizona or California.

Narrator 3: The new American leaders project taught me to embrace my American story, not to run away from it.

Narrator 2: I am a new American leader.

Narrator 3: I am a new American leader.

Narrator 1: We need leaders to believe ordinary people can do anything.

Jose Cardenas: Joining me is Petra Falcon, executive director for promise Arizona, and Pedro Lopez, a member of the Cartwright school district governing board. Petra, you have been on many times before with a focus on community engagement but this is a little different than we talked about before. Describe the program for me.

Petra Falcon: Well, the New American Leaders project is a new national project, and it's focus is to invest in the future leaders of our communities and it is focused on first and second generation immigrants with the notion that our new Americans are here with a purpose to live the American dream, but also to bring their values into political public life. The very first thing they have to offer is their story of coming to this country and just being able to have this hope and this drive and connecting to the future of their community. It's just a wonderful, wonderful partnership that we have joined with the national American leaders project. It's three years old. Its founder is Asian. We have connected in the last couple of years to bring this training to Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: Petra, why the focus on relatively new immigrants who may not have the same establishment ties to the community, the same resources that people who have been here for a while?

Petra Falcon: For that reason alone. An immigrant has that story that has come to struggle, perhaps, that has been framed around the importance of family, the importance of community, and these are the kinds of leaders that I think we need to have in elected office that will also transfer those values into the decision making.

Jose Cardenas: Pedro, you were born in the United States but grew up in Mexico.

Pedro Lopez: Yes.

Jose Cardenas: You have that experience. Do you think your approach to running for office and other things you've done would have been different if you had been born and raised entirely in the United States?

Pedro Lopez: I think -- I came from Mexico seven years ago, so I come from a different culture. I was fortunate to be born in the U.S. but the values my parents gave me when I was growing up, education, the community helped me achieve a successful campaign.

Jose Cardenas: How do you think your immigrant background plays into that? Why does that make you a better school board member?

Pedro Lopez: My district is 94% Latino. I know my neighbors, my students, my teachers. I have been growing up in that area for the past seven years, so one, I know the struggle, and secondly, I know what the community needs. That's why I decided to run for the school board especially in my district because again I feel that I can better represent my students, my constituents, because we have the same background.

Jose Cardenas: Petra, you're very proud of Pedro. He's one of your shining stars. How did you come to find him and the others who participated in what is now two sessions of the program?

Petra Falcon: Well, number one Pedro we found in the streets at the state capitol when SB 1070 hit our state.

Jose Cardenas: Campaigning or demonstrating.

Petra Falcon: He came marching to the state capitol. He was at his high school and they did a walk out and showed up at the capital and signed a volunteer card that said I want to join the movement. We brought him into the family and we have leadership training all time.

Jose Cardenas: We're showing pictures as you're talking of some of the leadership sessions on the screen what. Does the training Connecticut of?

Petra Falcon: It consists of what Pedro has described. How does he take what his energy and his you transfer them into being able to put a campaign together.

Jose Cardenas: Meaning desires.

Petra Falcon: Meaning desires. He has a commitment to his community and how do you transfer them so that he learns how to put together a campaign. One of the skills you need, how do you raise money and how can you be successful. It starts with Pedro telling his story and going from there. Describe how he knows his community. If he's going to run for public office and be successful he has to start with the people who are going to vote for him because his biggest asset are his voters.

Jose Cardenas: You have cohorts around 20 people.

Petra Falcon: The best learning environment is a cohort of about 20. Our first year we had 19 trainees. Pedro was one of those. Nine of those came out of basic -- a lot of them come from campaign life or civic engagement. They have learned to do voter registration, how to knock on doors. They say I can do this but more importantly they come to civic public engagement or political public life when they are 17 because they are angry about what they see if their communities. There was a lot of anger around SB 1070, so this energy the last three years has come out of that. Can we move that energy so that they can become decision makers in their own communities? This training really is about immigrant experience but now can we transfer that into the political experience with all of their energy that they have.

Jose Cardenas: I want to come back to the topic of this happening now in light of some very interesting recent decisions. Before that, what do you teach them and who does the teaching? What do you teach that they don't already know?

Petra Falcon: Well, the founder is Asian, and the curriculum begins with telling their narrative. Are they -- what's their story. But they also talk about what is their stump speech going to be like because we all know politicians are great at giving stump speeches but you have to remember these young people have never run for public office. Probably have never been in front of the camera. The first thing is for them to tell their story or tell somebody why they want to run for public office in 90 seconds or in three minutes so that that's some of the pieces they learn. The other things is how do you put a campaign budget together. The first thing they teach is the majority of the time they are talking to voters and raising money, so then who is it that they need around them? What do they build around them so they can have a successful campaign?

Jose Cardenas: Pedro, what was the most valuable thing you learned?

Pedro Lopez: It was the stump speech. It's 90 seconds. Why should they vote for you? That was one of the key things for me. Secondly raising money. I was raised to never ask for money. In this training I was able to feel comfortable and make the phone calls and have the discipline to spend a whole day campaigning not just doing one thing but talking to voters and secondly talking to people to your friends, people that can actually give you some money to run the campaign.

Jose Cardenas: You ran in a crowded field, five other candidates.

Pedro Lopez: Yes. Three positions.

Jose Cardenas: You were the top vote getter?

Pedro Lopez: Yes. I was fortunate to receive 6,000 votes. The past elections had been four or 5,000. We were the only campaign that was, one, calling voters, door knocking every day, have literature and campaign signs.

Jose Cardenas: You think that made a difference?

Pedro Lopez: That made a huge difference.

Jose Cardenas: What about now that you're on the board. How much did this prepare you for that experience?

Pedro Lopez: It repaired me in a way now I'm an elected official, a public person. That got me ready for. That now that I'm on the board there's so much policy we need to learn. There's a lot of things that come to the school board. When I ran they told me my job is to approve the budget, create policy and fire and hire the superintendent. I have learned in the past six months that that's not the job.

Jose Cardenas: More complicated than that.

Pedro Lopez: More complicated than that.

Jose Cardenas: Petra, is your organization at the stage that old Robert Redford movie the candidate where he wins and they say, what do but dough now?

Petra Falcon: Well, I'm going to also say that why school board elections are important to promise Arizona in 2011 after the big push with SB 1070 our listen to what was important to the families and we elected as an organization two issues for our working agenda. Our organizing agenda was education and immigration. We have integrated those issues within the last couple of years. That's why school boards are so important to us. When you're talking about governance we have to teach our community or they have to be there side by side with our school board members. Too many times people have little interest in running for school boards because they are not as exciting as perhaps running for Congress or for state office but school boards are important to our families and our communities and the future of Arizona. That's why we have made a commitment to working with NALP, with the Pedros of the world so they are not learning by themselves. Long term we're working with NALP develop ago curriculum for school board candidates and what they have to do beyond running for office. We have about 250 alumni across the country and a second phase will bring people together who are interested in school boards and providing that support.

Jose Cardenas: You alluded to this earlier, the passion that issues like SB 1070 and other matters evoked and the stimulus that provided. Since then it's largely been gutted by the courts. A decision this week on voter registration that went against the state of Arizona. There's a pretty good chance immigration reform will pass this year in Congress. Where does that leave you? Do you think you'll see a waning of interest in programs like this?

Petra Falcon: Nope. I think there will be increased need in us continuing to organize because you're just going to have many more theirs we have to address, everything from adult education to how do we get people ready for jobs, so the need for organizing in our community is greater and more importantly people who are ready to lead is going to be much, much greater.

Jose Cardenas: Thank you both for joining us tonight to talk about this. Much appreciated.

Petra Falcon: Thank you.

Pedro Lopez: Thank you.

Petra Falon:Executive Director, Promise Arizona;Pedro Lopez:Participant, NALP and Member, Cartwright School District Governing Board, member

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