Voices for 2020: Immigrants Seeking to Amplify Voices as Election Nears

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This year, one in ten eligible voters in the United States are immigrants, a new record, but being eligible is just the first step.

The seond step is actually registering those eligible voters to vote, and two Chicago immigrants, Rosa Esquivel and Ugo Okere, are looking to use their stature as leaders in their communities to help do just that.

For Okere, who came to the United States from Nigeria, the ascent of former President Barack Obama to the Oval Office helped to cement his interest and passion for politics.

“I got into politics in 2008 when I saw someone who looked like me, with an African name like mine, run for the highest office in the United States, and win,” he said.

In this election year, they are looking beyond just the choices at the top of the ballot. 

Esquivel, originally from Guatemala, says she has already voted, and says that she voted on a bevy of big issues, including education, housing and fair wages.  the big As for Okere, he says he’s looking for “a health care system that actually serves people” when he casts his ballot.  

“When I drop my ballot into the ballot box, I feel like I contributed to the fight,” he said.

“It’s not only about voting, it’s also about involving yourself in that process, participating in your community,” Esquivel added.

Okere came to the United States as a baby, and says that the immigrant experience always varies between individuals, but there is a common thread running through all of their stories.

“The immigrant experience may be different for many people, but is unifying,” he said.       

Esquivel’s mother came to Chicago first, then she moved to the city several years later as a teenager, studying for the test to become a naturalized citizen.     

When she has returned to visit Guatemala, she realized how different live in the U.S. is.

 “I live a more comfortable life, but it doesn’t come (easily). It comes with hard work,” she said.

When asked for one word that describes what it’s like to be a citizen, Okere and Esquivel both offered unique perspectives.

For Okere, the word is “struggle.”

“It takes struggle to get there, but at the end of struggle is justice,” he said. “At the end of struggle is prosperity.”   

For Esquivel, even in the midst of pandemic, her word is “hope.”  

“Whenever something bad happens, then we see the rising of humanity, so that’s how I see it,” she said.

Both are extremely active in putting their political dreams and ambitions into action. Esquivel is a mother and currently serves as board president of the Pilsen Alliance. Okere ran unsuccessfully for a spot on the Chicago City Council, and now runs the 25th Ward IPO.  

They say – because of the sacrifices their parents made – they are paying it forward.

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