Nestor Rodrigues, an immigration scholar, aptly describes that at one end of the continuum are undocumented migrants who are employed in low-income jobs and living in daily fear of deportation. Their primary concern is simply to work and survive; they are hardly focused on issues of civic and political engagement. It is generally left to their children, those who are either born in or who have for the most part grown up in the United States and who have both more familiarity with the system and a command of the English language, to become more engaged. At the other pole of the continuum are those who have entered the country legally, who are highly educated, and who are employed in high-end professional occupations (such as engineers, medical doctors, scientists, etc.). They may be involved in professional association activities that lead them to civic/political engagement or they may be personally motivated to participate in the public sphere. They have a good understanding of what is at stake, no matter what end of the political spectrum they situate themselves on.
While the name “Adeoye “Oye” Owolewa” might not be familiar to the greater American populace, it is a name that many Africans, especially those of Nigerian background, might immediately recognize. Representative Owolewa is a Nigerian-American-born Bostonian and pharmacist. He is one of many such candidates of African descent ensuring that the African diaspora and other minority communities are no longer underserved and underrepresented. Immigrants and their children make up a small but growing proportion of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. At least 76 (14%) of the 117th Congress’s voting members are foreign-born or have at least one parent born in another country with Democrats far outnumbering Republicans among both immigrants and children of immigrants in Congress. Fourteen of the eighteen foreign-born members are Democrats, as are 44 of the 58 members who are children of immigrants according to a 2021 Pew Research.
In engaging with Rep. Owolewa , one is quick to recognize his passion for service, a practice that he attributes to his Nigerian parents who instilled in him, at an early age, the importance of being an active member of the community and love for science. Owolewa (D) who was elected as the shadow representative of the United States House of Representatives for the District of Columbia in November 2020 is an activist and community leader and one not shy about advocating for his constituents.
For residents living in DC, the issue of D.C. Statehood is high on the list of concerns.
For more than 200 years, residents of Washington, DC have been subjected to systemic inequality and denied the full range of citizenship rights enjoyed by residents of other states, including voting representation in Congress.
The District of Columbia is the only entity within the United States of America whose citizens bear the responsibilities of citizenship without sharing in the full rights and privileges of said citizenship. Residents pay more taxes than residents in 22 states and pay more per capita to the federal government than any state, yet they have no votes in Congress. In August 2021, Owolewa called out Sen. Joe Manchin for his lack of support on DC statehood legislatively, an issue he has strongly advocated for since entering politics.
On the issue of protection for those under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a first-generation Nigerian-American himself, the Rep. understands and recognizes the challenges and contributions made by immigrants. Since 2012, more than 825,000 people have received deferred action under the DACA policy. Rep. Owolewa advocates for the abolition of discriminatory practices, the creation of a clear path to citizenship, and the recognition of the cultural and economic contributions that immigrants make to American society. DHS on Oct. 31, 2022, codified existing policies with limited changes to preserve and fortify DACA, in a significant win for the representative and his fellow Democrats.
In addition, Owolewa’s commitment to his constituency is tied to other issues including access to resources, education, entrepreneurship, abortion rights, voting rights, and health care rights. Ensuring that all DC residents are afforded progressive representation for issues that matter most to them, he highights the concerns of DC-based entrepreneurs and business owners by supporting and advocating investment into businesses developed and maintained by minoritie. For Owolewa this is a priority to the health of the DC business and creative ecosystems .
While many African Diaspora communities in the DMV have rallied around to support the Nigerian-American Rep, Joshua, an undocumented immigrant said he is unable to participate or engage in any form of political or civic engagement for the fear of drawing attention to himself and his family.
Asked why she supported the Representative, Akeyo- a Kenyan refugee migrant and citizen has this to say about Rep.Oye as she refers to him: as, “For me, thinking about participating in politics still raises fears for me especially when I think about my homeland experiences. Oye inspires me and I want my children to see him as an example of what is possible in a country like America.”
Reflections such as these are a good reminder about our privileges, rights, and power as a community to vote and influence decisions especially the ones that directly affect us. It is also a lesson to the Diaspora living in America that our inclusion and participation in politics and civic engagement, is an important aspect of the immigrant’s contribution towards a more perfect union.
To find out more about Representative Oye Owolewa log onto: www.repoyedc.com.
Article Authored by Abolaji Omitogun & Edited by Risikat Okedeyin