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Safiya Wazir Was a Refugee, Now She’s a State House Candidate

In a victory even she didn’t expect, Wazir defeated a four-term incumbent in her New Hampshire primary and will appear on the general ballot come November 6th

Safiya Wazir holds her daughter, Aaliyah, behind one of her campaign signs in Concord, N.H. Wazir, a Democrat and former refugee from Afghanistan, is running for the 400-member New Hampshire House after an upset win over the incumbent during the primaryElections 2018 New Hampshire Refugee Candidate, Concord, USA - 09 Oct 2018

Safiya Wazir holds her daughter, Aaliyah, behind one of her campaign signs in Concord, N.H.

Holly Ramer/AP/REX Shutterstock

Next week, 27-year-old Safiya Wazir could become the first former refugee to hold public office in New Hampshire. In September, she defeated four-term State Rep. Dick Patten in the primary in Ward 8, an area in Concord known as the Heights. Although her race was small-scale — she received 329 votes while Patten got 143 — her success echoes recent primary wins nationally for young, progressive women of color.

Wazir fled Afghanistan with her family when she was six-years-old. After spending 10 years in Uzbekistan, Wazir and her family settled in Concord in 2007. She became a citizen in 2013. Wazir tells Rolling Stone that when she arrived in the U.S., her focus was on the opportunities that her new home afforded her.

“All I was thinking was about my education and going forward with my life to make my life better,” she says. After graduating from high school, Wazir attended the New Hampshire Technical Institute, earning a degree in business.

In February of 2018, a friend suggested that Wazir run for office; Wazir maintains the idea had never occurred to her before then. Despite being highly involved in her community, working her way up from volunteering in classrooms with Head Start to becoming vice-chair of the organization’s local policy council, she had always believed that she lacked the necessary degrees and experience for public service.

Wazir has two daughters and is pregnant with her third child; taking on a campaign was daunting. Her choice was finalized when her parents and husband agreed to take care of the kids while she campaigned, although Wazir says her daughters now like going canvassing with her. “They enjoy it actually, they think it’s fun that I go talk to people and they like to be out there with me.,” she says.

In spite of nausea and discomfort from her pregnancy, Wazir dedicated herself to door-knocking during the summer of 2018. It was important to her that voters saw her campaign as legitimate. “I’m like, I’m so young, I’m not sure that they’re going to think that I’m serious about this,” she says. 

If she wins Tuesday, Wazir plans to focus on four main issues: equal housing opportunity, education, paid family leave and Medicaid expansion. She says her one-on-one conversations with constituents allowed her to construct her campaign around the concerns that mattered to them most. “There were many issues that would come up that they want me to consider; when you’re a legislator you do have to make tough choices on behalf of them.”

Both Patten and Dennis Soucy, Wazir’s opponent in the general election, have been openly negative about the growing immigrant population in Concord. Following the primary, Patten told the Boston Globe that, “We have many immigrants in there now, and she’s [Wazir] from Afghanistan so she was treated like the princess.” Soucy removed a racist meme from his Facebook page after the Guardian asked him about it.

Following the primary, Patten endorsed Soucy. Wazir is unconcerned.

“I’ll advocate, I work hard, and I’ll be the voice of everyone in my district,” she says. “If they want to choose me and they want to cast a vote for me, good, I will work tirelessly on behalf of them. If they choose not to, that’s totally fine, too. I’m not going to be angry and I’m not going to be disappointed. It’s the people’s choice.”

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