The urge for additional education took Mazahir Salih to Iowa City some six years ago. She was recently elected member of the Iowa City Council. Her plans after graduation was to return to Virginia State where she had lived for 15years. But the affection and love of the people of Iowa City made her changed her mind and eventually ended up making Iowa City her home. Her decision did not only bring out the best in her, especially in serving the community, it propelled her to seek political office so that more could be done for the community.
Mazahir Salih ran for a position in the Iowa City Council, a City of over 74,000, and won in the November 2017 national election, therefore attracting a global attention as the first American of Sudanese descent to win an election in United States of America. She spoke with the New Americans about her journey to this historic feat, aspirations and hopes:-
I am an immigrant. I came to this country some years ago looking for better life, even though better life is something you have to fight for and build. I came here with my husband. When I got here I had to start all over again like any immigrant even though I had a degree from my country, Sudan. I started working as a low wage worker in McDonald’s, some kind of labor job. I have four boys and one girl, married and also studied in this country. I studied Electroencephalogram Technology, EEG which is the Electrophysiological monitoring to record the electrical activity of the brain. I graduated from Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.
I came to America, first to Virginia and lived there for 15years before I moved to Iowa. I came to Iowa to study with plans to go back to Virginia. When I came I fell in love with Iowa and decided to make it home. I’ve lived in Iowa for six years.
As soon as I arrived Iowa, I met people who were really passionate about social justice. It started with working with them and serving in the community. And it fits with the mantra of the Center for Worker Justice where I am working right now. I served as the Vice President of the Board of Directors for two years and President for one year. Now I work as Principal Work executive as a community organizer. Given my experience in the community, I have worked with different people from different background – low wage workers, business people and developers. I bring people together and develop ideas. During my term, we were able to increase the minimum wage in our county from $7.25 to $10.10 and we recovered $50,000 unpaid wages for the people that worked and could not get their money.
I also served as the bridge between the developers and residents when the developers bought the land of a mobile home park and asked the residents to move their mobile homes from the land so they can build there. With others in the Center for Worker Justice, we were able to bring the developers and the residents to one table and resolved the issue. We didn’t want them to force our community people to go outside the community. We spoke about it and reached a decision where the developers will build over 100 houses for the residents on the East side of the park and they will build theirs on the west side of the park. This way we get everybody benefiting. This is the kind of thing we want to be seeing.
As a community organizer, and an advocate, I am very passionate about bringing people together from different background. I think I can do more at the higher level.
With serving in the community over the years, I said to myself, if I cannot change things at the federal level, why not change it at the local level because I believe in change from the bottom to the top. That is why I decided to start the change from the bottom to the top so that I can serve my community.
The campaign wasn’t easy. It was really hard. My opponent was born in Iowa, she studied and worked all her life in Iowa City. I decided to announce my intentions to run early and I worked hard. I tried to reach out to lot of people as much as I could. We did reach out to a lot of people. People in my campaign committee were really good people who were helping me and they were hard working people. They reached out to lot of people to get my voice heard. I announced in March 2017 and just because they don’t have that name recognition. I got to reach out to a lot of people, going to the stores, markets, and doing door knocking. My campaign manager told me we’ve done over a hundred meetings in this campaign between March and November.
I’ve been helping people from different backgrounds at the Center for Worker Justice. I have Latinos, Africans, and people from this community who were born here. That is why I will be unique at the City Council because I deal with low wage workers, middle income families, businesses and I have helped the hotel business association by bringing workers to them and I’ve helped people find jobs. That is why I say I know the pains of everyone in this community and can be a voice for them.
I based my campaign on three issues and they are affordable houses, economic development for all where we bring jobs that pay great wages and the third is fixing our transportation system and make it available on Sunday because we don’t have Sunday transportation in my area for now. I am looking forward to bringing everyone together and looking forward to serving the community.
America is the land of opportunities and I encourage everyone to follow their dreams. The sky is the limit for dreams. If you’re really focused to do something you will do it and for immigrants, I will encourage all immigrants to be engaged in their new life. This is their new country. They should be engaged and be involved. They should try to use their rights and carry out their responsibilities. Don’t be isolated. This is their country and they are contributing to the community, to the society, to the economy and that is why they should be engaged by using their rights and also enjoy all the benefits from that. I encourage everyone whether born in America or moved to this country that they should really be engaged in community programs, shouldn’t be afraid to make their voices heard. We are in a country of opportunities and rights.
My husband is my number one supporter. I told him in the beginning and he agreed and supported me. All the time he’s told me he agreed with my decision to run for elections. My kids were really involved in all the process of the campaign. My campaign was not a regular campaign. It was a wake up campaign that we can serve at any level of government. I believe I am opening the path for the rest of the immigrants in this community to do the same thing that I did. I know we can do this. My kids are learning a lot. They did a lot of door knocking with me. They went to a lot of stores and markets with me. They told their friends at school to tell their parents to vote for me. They really helped me a lot.