By Emmanuel Ureña
New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat is the American Dream personified. Despite a devastating loss by the Democrats across the board this past November, the Democrat from New York triumphed by locking down a seat in the House of Representatives. In doing so, he became not only the first Dominican American to be elected but, also, the first formerly undocumented immigrant to ever serve in congress.
Emigrating with his family from Santiago, Dominican Republic and settling in New York City’s Washington Heights in the 1960s, a nine-year-old Espaillat arrived in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and left behind the Dominican Civil War (more commonly known as La Guerra de Abril). All helped to mold Espaillat for a future in public service. “Those [events] shaped me to some degree,” the congressman told NBC News. “They got me interested in public service, and civil rights, human rights.”
And so, the desire to stand up for what’s right fueled the Santiaguero to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science at Queens College. After college, he spent the better part of his adult life serving his community, working in the Manhattan courts as a service coordinator for a non-profit organization that provided indigent legal services. Espaillat also helped resolve numerous conflicts in Washington Heights as a mediator for the Washington Heights Inwood Conflict Resolution and Mediation Center, and worked to rid Upper Manhattan of drugs and crime, which eventually concluded in the opening of a new police precinct in the area.
As a member of the New York State Assembly and the State Senate, Espaillat fought for the rights of low-income tenants, veterans, immigrants and local businesses, pushing for creation of affordable housing, helping low-income day care workers obtain the right to health care, and he also backed measures to improve hospital translation services. Under his guidance, laws were passed for harsher punishments for perpetrators of violent crimes against livery cab drivers, which was becoming an increasingly devastating problem in NYC at the time.
Yet, with all of these accomplishments, Espaillat still came up short, on not one, but two attempts to gain a U.S. Congressional seat. Losing in the primary elections to incumbent Charles Rangel by very narrow margins. But, as that old adage says, the “third time’s a charm,” and Espaillat finally made it through to the general elections where he defeated Republican Tony Evans by garnering a whopping 89 percent of the votes.
Espaillat told NBC News that he brings “that Caribbean blood [to Washington]. A certain spunk, a certain style, a certain tenacity, resilience, persistence that I think will be felt.” ¡Espaillat que vamos!
© Getty Images/MCT - (Image of him by himself)
© Getty Images/Bill Clark - (Image of him talking with people)