Political conciousness: her words tumble on top of one other. Her hands wave in front of her and then fidget with the patriotic campaign button on her jacket.
"When I walk around with my two kids, I see things that are broken and need to be fixed. With my experience working in city government and my experience as a civil rights advocate, I know that I'm the best representative for this ward right now," Dolar said. "I never see our alderman out in the neighborhood dealing with the everyday issues. This is my responsibility."
Dolar and her family immigrated to Rogers Park from the Philippines when she was 3. Now 34, Dolar faces a unique prospect in her hometown neighborhood. If elected, she will become the first Asian American to serve on the Chicago City Council.
Chicago's Asian American population is more than 125,000, or 4.3 percent of the city's 2.9 million residents. Asians represent 6.4 percent of the population in Rogers Park, one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods. Of the other residents, 31.8 percent are white, 20.6 percent are black and 27.8 percent are Hispanic, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Dolar is running against Bernard L. Stone, a 30-year incumbent, and Greg Brewer, co-founder of Citizens for Responsible Development. Neither could be reached for comment. Also in the race is activist and information technology consultant Salman Aftab, who is also Asian American.
"Who cares if she's Asian or Hispanic," Aftab said. "I'm Asian, too, but I never mention this." Aftab said he would rather focus on fighting crime and low wages.
Since 2000, Dolar, the former League of Women Voters co-president, has been the director of the Asian Advisory Council for the city's Commission on Human Relations. In that position, she created the City Services Awareness survey to raise awareness of city resources for the Asian American community. She also established the city's first Asian American Speakers Bureau and implemented an annual mayoral award, FoundAsian, to recognize key contributions by Asian Americans.
She turns the expertise garnered from those experiences to assist in her grassroots campaign, which acquired national attention in October with an endorsement from the Asian American Action Fund, a progressive political action organization that advances Asian American candidates in various elections by raising funds and national visibility for them.
"She has become so well-attuned to all of the ethnic groups and neighborhoods in Chicago where Asian Americans are involved," said Paul Igasaki, a board member of the Asian American Action Fund. "She's not only dedicated to Asian Americans but to all other minority groups as well."
Dolar recently sat down with The Chicago Reporter to talk about her life and run for alderman in the 50th ward.
What role did your Filipina identity play in your childhood growing up in Rogers Park?
My family emigrated from the Philippines to the Rogers Park area with $300 in our pocket and rented our first apartment on Devon and Ridge [avenues]. At that time, we experienced lots of struggles that many immigrant families experience--which were basically issues of finding housing, good education, etc.
The social networks of the Filipino community were the most important thing we had growing up here on the North Side. They were the main resource we had. We were completely dependent on friends and family to get information. That's why I believe so strongly now in outreach to the families of this neighborhood and helping them to become a partner with the local government.
As someone with an extensive background in public service, what motivated you to run for office now?
I decided to run for alderman after I got involved with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights' New Americans Initiative. As a ward leader, I was registering people to vote in the immigrant areas of the neighborhood and I found that people were getting ignored. We would knock on people's doors and find out that they'd been living there for 15 years and had never seen a precinct captain or information on their alderman's office. We know, though, that there are people in those precincts voting. So the people whose doors we're knocking on--they've just never been asked to participate.
I've also seen the decline of our public school system. Residents have lost faith in the public schools here. We used to have people moving into the neighborhood because we had good schools. Now the schools are what drive them away.
We deserve better than what we have now, and I want to be the person to make it better. I want educational roundtables. I want flu shot information. I want stop signs in places where children are in danger. I want to bring back that excitement of possibility, of having the faith in your local representatives that they'll take a stand for your voice.
What appeals to me about being an alderman is that it's the most local contact of government for the people. I want to focus in on neighborhood concerns. There are other people who I think would be better at being a state legislator or a congressperson. My children need me to advocate for the local concerns.
What are the most significant challenges that you've faced in your campaign thus far?
Being a woman and being Asian is very difficult. There are a lot of misperceptions about Asian women and motherhood. I have to send a message to the community that running for office is being a good mother, because I'm addressing the needs of my family and other families.
In terms of being Asian American, I have to make that much more effort to prove I'm capable, and that I'm not just going to act on behalf of Asians. That perception is unfair. I'm constantly fighting to show them the powerful parts of what it means to be a woman and an Asian American so they get past what they might see physically. But the bottom line is that I draw my strength and my passion for public service from these two challenges, from identifying as part of these two groups.
How do you garner support from the non-Asian American sectors of your ward?
I have supporters from all different walks of life--from diverse ethnic and religious groups, from the South Asians and the Jewish community, to the elderly and the youth. It doesn't matter what ethnic background they come from; people are receptive and want a change because they feel that they have been ignored. That crosses ethnic and religious lines.
It's about having a platform that draws upon the challenges and the frustrations and the vision of each subgroup in the neighborhood. I've instituted a Resident's Action and Advisory Committee to act as a vehicle of communication for all the different groups in the neighborhood to continuously advise me to have an informed platform and informed initiatives. The committee is made up of concerned residents. It is multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-aged. We meet twice a month to talk about what issues are important to the neighborhood and how my campaign can shed light on them.
How would you describe the Asian American experience today in Chicago?
It's sort of a coming of age right now for the Asian American community--to be in a position to strive for stronger political power. I'm a first generation immigrant who grew up in Rogers Park and a success story of the public system.
I think that's what's going on with many of the Asian American young professionals and public service people. It's our time. It's our time because we are finally a generation that has fully grown up here. We now don't have to face as many barriers--language, perceptions, lack of education--that my parents and others had to face. The community is actively seeking representation.
But part of this coming of age is the fact that there aren't very many role models or examples. People are not sure what kind of leadership to accept. We have to practice.
Dan Strumpf helped research this article.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Q&A: Naisy Dolar|
|Publication:||The Chicago Reporter|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
|Previous Article:||Aldermen: by appointment of the mayor.|
|Next Article:||Cash and the city: city workers give thousands their bosses, alderman and ward organizations. Some say it's just part of the job.|