These 4 new elected officials are reshaping politics in Boston and Worcester
Tania Fernandes Anderson was just 10 years old, with a hard, round, malnourished stomach on a lean body, when she made her first plane trip from her native Cape Verde to Boston. During the taxi ride from the airport to his new home, the speed made him vomit and the buildings all seemed too tall. When she first encountered the snow, she ran outside barefoot to greet it, not realizing that the unknown substance was cold.
From those early days Anderson has learned a lot about the city that seemed so alien at first – its beauty and ugliness. She lived in social housing and in a shelter. She saw a friend get shot in front of her eyes and then fall to her knees. Through her entrepreneurial work, she promoted the arts in communities of color, opening a boutique and founding a small theater company.
While working at Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets, a nonprofit promoting racial equity for small businesses, she began to see how Boston’s zoning laws and other factors made it difficult to establish businesses for entrepreneurs. The experience piqued his interest in policy making.
This fall, she was elected to Boston City Council, becoming the first muslim member and its first African immigrant. Anderson says her experience “offers not only knowledge but also genuine understanding and patience,” traits that will come in handy as she seeks to create a more equitable city.
âIt’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to lead the way,â says Anderson. âIt sets the precedent for a new, diverse and inclusive government. And I hope I can do it in a way where I just meet people where they are.
Worcester City Council
Growing up in VlorÃ«, the Albanian coastal town that was at times the epicenter of the nation’s political upheaval, Etel Haxhiaj often found herself pondering the role of government. In the 1990s, after the fall of communism in Albania, she saw university students from her hometown pave the way for democracy, fighting for the idea that “politics is a way to do good for people”, she remembers.
But as a teenager, even as she took part in protests, Haxhiaj – pronounced “ha-jee-eye” – couldn’t imagine a future for herself in elected office. It just wasn’t something the women of her country did.
It wasn’t until decades later – after fleeing Albania at age 17, living for two years undocumented in Greece, winning the green card lottery and arriving in Dallas, then moving to Worcester to study at the Clark University – that his vision began to take shape. Last November, during his second round, Haxhiaj was elected to Worcester City Council, where she will be the first Muslim person to serve.
Haxhiaj’s path to politics was a long one. Before launching her first campaign in 2019, she researched “furiously” to find examples of people from historically disenfranchised communities who managed to get elected. She watched the 2019 documentary “Knock down the house” that follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign, over and over again for inspiration.
Turning to Ocasio-Cortez, along with Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar – one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress – sparked an âI can do it too,â attitude, she said. When she takes office, Haxhiaj hopes to provide the same inspiration to others.
Boston City Council
One day in the fall of 2011, Ruthzee Louijeune walked into Boston City Hall to tell a painful story of discrimination – the night she and her friends, who are black, were kicked out of a nightclub, for no apparent reason other than the color of their skin.
A Harvard student at the time, Louijeune rushed to the audience between classes. Even though it was the first time she was testifying, she didn’t feel intimidated. Many of those who are victims of discrimination, she knew, have neither the time nor the means to speak out. It was important that she try.
âI was so tired of seeing a Boston do that,â she recalls.
A decade later, Louijeune is back to town hall after being elected in November to city council – but the composition of the body has changed dramatically. A council long dominated by white males is now an emblem of the city’s growing diversity.
In the American city with the third largest Haitian diaspora, Louijeune will be the first Haitian American on the council. As she campaigned, she felt the warmth of this community, where supporters taught her a new phrase in Haitian Creole: “N’ap voye’w mounted,” they said. ” We will send you. Louijeune hopes to serve this community and others when she takes office.
Louijeune’s election is a testament to the fact that Boston has changed. But the change is more complicated than it looks, she said. âPeople like to say it’s a new Boston. But the old-new austere [paradigm] doesn’t work so well, âLouijeune says. âIt’s a Boston that finally opens its arms to the fullness of itself and the fullness of its people.
Worcester City Council
Thu Nguyen did not launch his bid for Worcester City Council thinking he would become Massachusetts’ first non-binary elected official. âThe root of my race has always been around our community,â says Nguyen, who came to the United States with his family as a refugee from Vietnam in 1993. âFor me, making history is kind of a bonus. extra that happened at the end. “
Growing up in the diverse city of Worcester, Nguyen felt right at home; they said they didn’t feel different because there was a feeling that everyone was different.
Nguyen has decided to stand for election in the summer of 2020, when a racial calculation gripped the country after the murder of George Floyd. Nguyen realized that they could make a difference through local government, and because they could, they felt it was their “role and their duty”.
Nguyen didn’t think running for Worcester City Council as a non-binary person “would be a big deal – because in my life I’ve always been like that”. They quickly learned that mounting a political campaign meant discussing their identity more than they ever had. But often it was a good thing. âWhat I noticed is that a lot of people really showed up and really cared,â Nguyen said. âIt meant a lot to a lot of people in Worcester. Allies educated others – young people were teaching their parents what it meant to be non-binary. People corrected other people’s pronouns.
Nguyen was elected to the board in November. Now they want to make sure the doors are wide open for everyone. âI wanted to run so that people after me could see that they could be themselves and just run,â says Nguyen. âWe don’t have to be a cis white man. We don’t have to be perfect. . . . You can come as yourself, as your values. You and your life experience really matter.