By Dave Schwab
Immigrant San Diegans are organizing socially, economically and politically under the banner of Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), which is headquartered in City Heights.
“Our mission is to promote the fair treatment and equitable inclusion of refugees,” said Ramla Sahid, a spokesperson for the 501(c) 3 nonprofit with offices at 4089 Fairmount Ave., just south of Kensington and Talmadge.
“Our goal is to educate (immigrant) people about what voting means, how it impacts them locally, and to encourage them to vote,” said Sahid, who immigrated with her family from Somalia to Texas before relocating to San Diego.
Founded in 2014, PANA is a research, community organizing, and public policy hub dedicated to advancing the full economic and social inclusion of refugees.
It has become a powerful voice for refugees in San Diego, spearheading immigrant voter participation while educating and advocating against recent anti-refugee legislation in Congress.
PANA engages in numerous networking activities in the San Diego immigrant community, from running phone banks presently with the upcoming June primary and November national elections looming, to hosting quarterly special events, right down to staging neighborly get-togethers in people’s homes
Sahid said the impetus behind creation of PANA was the realization that the refugee community needs to work together to advance their common interests and achieve better outcomes. She said the key to that effort is finding ways to make resettlement meaningful to immigrants via promoting better outcomes for them in terms of getting them better housing, jobs and education.
“When people jump out of a building, they need to know they’re not going to land on concrete,” Sahid analogized. “You’ve got to have a trampoline to let them bounce back up.”
PANA recently partnered with the Diplomacy Council for Muslim Voter Empowerment on May 12 in City Heights to host a panel discussion on Muslim faith-based organizing and voting. One of the panelists was Tareq Purmul, vice president of the San Diego chapter of Muslim American Society, the nation’s largest Muslim organization.
Following that special event, Purmul talked about the drive to integrate Muslims into American society.
Referring to the United States as a “salad bowl of immigrants,” Purmul noted that immigrants have “made America great.”
“The message we’re trying to get out to the Muslim community right now is that they need to be civically and politically engaged,” Purmul said, characterizing the current political conversation about banning immigration as short-sighted.
“The Muslim population has been here since the creation of America,” Purmul said. “We’re here to stay. We’re here to be of service to our own nation. And we feel that our religion gives us the antidote to a lot of the ills of society.”
Purmul said the time has come to change the mindset of mainstream America — getting it to see that Muslims “are a huge asset,” while getting people to see that the recent Islamaphobia and anti-immigrant fear mongering are politically motivated.
“We’re hoping that we can mobilize the Muslim community, and at the same time, get them out of their shells and actively engaged in society,” Purmul said.
Sahid noted there’s a lot of work to be done in organizing San Diego’s Muslim population.
Of the estimated 80,000 refugees who have come to San Diego since 1975, averaging about 2,400 per year, eight per day, now comprising about one out of every 40 San Diegans, Sahid said only about 10 percent, so-called “super voters,” participate in every election.
“We’ve found that once immigrants are engaged, they’re really engaged, and become super voters,” Sahid said, adding that PANA hosts small-group meetings around tables in private homes with the intent to “promote their having an active voice. The idea is not to achieve a special outcome, but rather bring our communities together. She added the objective is get immigrants to engage, connect, network, chat with one another, get to know their neighbors, hear new topics, get them to meet with people they usually don’t meet with. “We want to bring together unlikely allies to collaborate and promote positive outcomes,” Sahid said.
“I really have a lot of hope for the future,” Purmul said. “I know it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but I really do think man is inherently good, that we can solve the problems that are in-hand today. This isn’t the time to point fingers and get in arguments. The source of the problem (with immigration) is not religion, not race. It’s putting the interests of the group ahead of the interests of individuals. That’s what we need to focus on.”
— Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.