A 27-year-old Afghan refugee won a surprise Democratic primary victory in a New Hampshire State House race this week, beating out an 8-year incumbent who ran a campaign focused on blaming immigrants for taking benefits from people born and raised in the state. Safiya Wazir, a pregnant mother of two, beat out 66-year-old Dick Patten, a former city councilor and police dispatcher by a margin of 329 to 143 in a victory that even she herself admitted left her “shocked.” Speaking to The New York Times, Wazir credited the young people in her area with rallying her to victory, and recalled what it was like coming to New Hampshire as a 16-year-old who had lived in Uzbekistan for 10 years after her family fled the Taliban in her home country when she was just 6.
“I have memories of the Taliban shooting and bombing and everything getting crazy. I would hide myself in a dark place so they couldn’t find me. When I moved to Uzbekistan, it was peaceful,” she told The Times. “UNICEF sent us to Concord in November 2007, my mom and dad and me, and we decided to stay. We had seen too much violence … I was 16 and had zero English. I was helping my parents, going to Concord High School, studying English and working at Walmart and Goodwill. A friend brought me English dictionaries and I sat down every night and studied the vocabulary so I could communicate. I couldn’t make a sentence, but I could use my vocabulary.”
“The community was good to us, but the problem was younger people at high school.I was older than others in my class and didn’t speak English, and I didn’t have friends to welcome me or introduce me or give me guidance. They didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” she added, recalling her first years in the country.
In 2012, a year before she officially became a U.S. citizen, she went back to Afghanistan to marry a man she had never met before as part of an arrangement made by her parents. She attended business school while pregnant — a two-year degree that she said took her five years to complete because she was taking night classes while also working at Walmart and the campus library. During the campaign, The Times noted, Patten had suggested that she would be unable to balance her duties as a mother and as a state legislator.
“Being a mother and working two jobs and going to school — it’s almost the same as being a state rep,” replied Wazir. “I don’t really respond to those comments. Just to say, women are capable. I was at college, worked two jobs, raised kids, helped out with my parents and am pregnant — I have faced many situations.”
While Wazir’s perseverance and positive attitude evidently paid dividends for her during the election, Patten has apparently remained convinced that immigrants such as herself are a drain on the community. The former state representative has said that he plans to endorse Wazir’s Republican opponent, Dennis Souzy, in November.
Read the full interview at The New York Times.