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YP Spotlights of the Month

July: Immigration

We are honoring ABNY YPs promoting and advocating for immigrants.
Congratulations to our July Spotlights of the Month, Pamela Chomba and Shahana Hanif!

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Pamela Chomba

Director of State Immigration Campaigns, FWD.us
How did you get to where you are today?

I found my voice. When I worked in electoral campaigns, I often argued to vote for a candidate, not knowing that my true power was in working for myself. I found immigration because my community asked me: how do you support someone when you can’t vote yourself yet? It was then that I realized people-power meant sharing our stories and challenges, and triumphing over them. Immigration chose me because I accepted who I was: a DACA recipient, Muslim, Latinx, Peruvian woman, and someone willing to fight for our rights.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud the speech I gave at a the Netroots 2017 Convention because I shared my personal story with a room full of allies who had lost sight of immigration as a priority in our resilience. In addition, I shared the space with Dolores Huerta, an activist for civil rights, and a strong role model for our activist community.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

I would ask anyone to first meet with their local organizer. If you want to work in immigration, ask yourself: have I met immigrants – documented and undocumented? Seek your local organizations and ask them what they need and how you can you can use your skills to help. Most importantly, listen to undocumented immigrants. We know how to organize, listen to what we need.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

A couple of years ago I helped a family stop the deportation of their father. I woke up every day that week with a heartache for strangers, people whom I’ve never met before, but knew I would do anything in my power to protect them and the 4.5 million immigrants in New York.

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Shahana Hanif

Director of Organizing and Community Engagement, Office of City Council Member Brad Lander
How did you get to where you are today?

My father arrived in Brooklyn all alone as an undocumented ship-jumper — he courageously crossed many seas for my two sisters and me to call Kensington, Brooklyn our home. My parents left their homes in rural Chittagong, Bangladesh for the possibilities of economic justice and democracy, despite being confronted with many challenges in their pursuit of building a new and forever home in Brooklyn.

They were the first community organizers I knew. They created Bangladeshi cultural and political associations to amplify the power of Bangladeshis in our city. It was also in these spaces that I recognized patriarchy, gender inequities, the absence of young voices, and deep community factions preventing meaningful changes and improvements.

My earliest organizing moments are as an older sister. I’m the eldest of three and was also older than most kids on our block. I negotiated with parents for more playtime. I helped mend and mediate fights because I believed in our power to be friends and that playing in a team is so much more fun than playing alone.

What are you most proud of?

I continue to survive Lupus — I was diagnosed at 17 and it nearly killed me. The journey to remission required telling my story of sickness and pain in English and Bangla, seeking out other stories of young women of color with chronic illnesses, navigating our city’s hospitals and health care as a young person (breaking out of shyness and introversion), recognizing and confronting the psychological and sociological impacts of disabilities, and advocating for better care at home, at school, at work, and in my friendships and communities.

Caring for myself has made me a compassionate organizer. In 2014 I organized Bangladeshi public housing tenants at Queensbridge Houses. They had never been engaged in NYC’s housing justice movement nor any electoral processes. This exclusion and disenfranchisement made for a distrustful start to our organizing campaign. Before the eventual formation of a Bangladeshi tenant association led by women, I met with tenants and families over and over again. These early conversations usually had nothing to do with building tenant power or getting NYCHA to address decrepit housing conditions. They were about Bangladeshi feminist histories, migration journeys, and our favorite foods.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

I learned this Bangla organizing proverb from fierce tenant organizer and leader Nayrin Muhith: dosher lathi ekerbojha. This means that it’s far more challenging for one person to sustainably change one’s circumstances and community, but our coming together as a collective creates magic and can change an entire system. Let’s be committed to this.

And this one by Bangladeshi rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam: “amra jodinajagi ma, kemneshokalhobe?” Literal translation: if we do not rise dear, how will it be morning? Deeper translation: if we do not rise up, how will we achieve justice?

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I’ve defended the NYC slice when no one cared nor needed to know why NYC pizza is most superior. Some of my favorites are Korner Pizza, Sunnyside Pizza, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Pinos La Forchetta’s fresh mozzarella vodka pizza, and Joe’s Pizza.

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