With the new wave of immigration advocacy, there has also been a new wave of incredible immigrant leaders emerging from all corners of the country. One such corner is Great Neck, New York, where State Senate candidate and Iranian immigrant Anna Kaplan is currently making waves. We reached out to Mrs. Kaplan to find out more about her past experiences, her present campaign, and her hopes for the future of America.
Sara Spector: Where are you from?
Anna Kaplan: I was born in Tabriz, Iran, a large city in Northern Iran. Later, my family moved to Tehran, Iran’s capital.
Sara: When did you move to the US?
Anna: I was 13 when I came to the U.S. I was sent here as part of a group of Jewish children who were brought to the U.S. for their own safety during Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
Sara: What was life like in Iran? Do you remember much?
Anna: I was pretty young when I was there, but what I mostly remember is being surrounded by family and living a very happy childhood. That all changed as the Revolution took hold and things began to spiral into chaos and violence. I just remember watching and feeling my parents becoming more and more fearful. As Jews in Iran, we were always part of a small, vulnerable minority, but the Islamic groups seeking to topple Iran’s ruler rightly terrified all of Iran’s religious minorities.
Sara: What propelled you to move to the US?
Anna: I came here as an unaccompanied child refugee, under a charitable program established to help Jewish children escape Iran. Once I was here, an application for political asylum was made on my behalf.
Sara: What was the immigration process like for you? Was it difficult?
Anna: I was granted asylum, along with thirty-nine other children who traveled here. In contrast to other immigrants, my process of getting here was relatively smooth. My parents however were not so lucky. I lived in foster care for over a year until my parents were granted visas to travel to America. The cultural process of adapting to American culture is obviously its own process itself. I learned English by watching TV shows, and I gradually became more comfortable with the culture. I even went to work in a McDonalds.
Sara: What motivated you to get into politics?
Anna: I was asked to run for the local library board by a group of activists who felt the Great Neck library system was in danger of being defunded or services reduced. With their help, I won the election handily. In my third year, I was appointed to the Town of North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals by the Town Supervisor. I was then asked to run to the Town Board by the Supervisor and the Town Democratic Party. It was a hard, sort of nasty race, but I won by a significant margin. I’ve held that seat ever since and was re-elected in a landslide in 2015. I got into politics out of concern for my community, and wanting to make it the best place for my family, my neighbors, and now my constituents. I know a lot of people that are involved in their communities at all levels and some of them really do make a difference, but if you want to make a real impact, you have to hold elected office.
Sara: How do you think your career has differed from other politicians who were born in the US? Anna: Do you find that your status as an immigrant has been more of a strength or a weakness?
I think my status gives me a better understanding of what it is like to be an outsider and the importance of giving everyone a voice in how they are governed. I get what it means to stick up for an underdog. I know the potential impact that can occur when someone in need gets access to the tools for success. I would say it is definitely a strength. Being an immigrant has given me a fresh perspective, and a desire to give back to this country that offered me refuge when I was in legitimate fear for my life.
Sara: What do you find most troubling about US immigration policies today?
Anna: What troubles me the most is the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been deliberately stoked by right-wing media and the Trump Administration. This country was built by immigrants, and we make an outsized contribution to American business, culture and scientific achievement. Worst of all are the drastic cuts in the number of refugees the U.S. is currently admitting in the face of the worst refugee crisis since World War II. I’m in complete support of careful vetting of refugees, but the U.S. must continue to allow those who are fleeing persecution and horrific violence a place of refuge.
Sara: What is one thing every person can do to help immigrants and refugees?
Anna: In our everyday lives there are small things we can all do to help immigrants and refugees. The first step is to speak out in the name of tolerance, every voice matters, and every word of love spoken can fight against the hatred we are seeing so much of. Second, they should register and vote in every possible election. Elections have consequences and nobody can claim to be surprised that the current administration is the most anti-immigrant and anti-refugee since the 1940s.
Sara: What message do you hope to send to conservatives, Washington, and any people who may think that immigrants pose a threat to national security?
Anna: My message is simple, one of the things America does best is take in immigrants and turn them into full-fledged Americans. I refer to that ability as one of America’s “core competencies.” It has been a huge advantage and strength to us and the list of immigrants and the children of immigrants who went on to do extraordinary things on behalf of this country is essentially infinite. Immigration is what the U.S. does and does best. Our national motto is “E Plurbius Unum” which means “out of many, one” and we’ve been using it since 1786.
Anna Kaplan has been endorsed by multiple reputable politicians and leaders, including Barack Obama. To find out more about her policies, click here. You can vote for her during the midterm elections on November 6th!
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