Iranian Americans Finding Success on Capitol Hill

Washington, D.C.- Yes, my name has 14 letters in it. Yes, newspapers often misspell it. I am after all, one of the few Iranian-Americans working in Congress.

My name is Newsha Moraveji and I am the Press Secretary for the longest serving Democratic Congresswoman in the U.S. House of Representatives. I've only been working in Congress for a few months, but I love my position and enjoy working for an elected body. Prior to my career on Capitol Hill, my first job after college was working to support development in the Middle East. After spending time trying to help people living thousands of miles away, I realized the best way to improve the lives of others was through a career in domestic politics advancing the cause of ethnic Americans.

Newsha Moraveji

In the summer of 2002 I made my career transition and started working at the heart of our government in the US Congress, specifically the House of Representatives. The House, compared to the Senate, was designed to be the chamber that best reflects the diversity of America. I feel honored to be one of few Muslims or Iranians who work in Congress, and I have made one of my goals while I'm here to create more opportunities in Congress for people of diverse backgrounds.

People often wonder what it is like to work inside a Congressional office. As Press Secretary, I work with other staff to formulate messages on a wide range of current issues such as fair trade, alternatives to petroleum, meat contamination, and unemployment issues. My responsibilities require me to develop relationships with local and national media to gain press attention for the Congresswoman's policies. Another aspect of my job is that I draft speeches that she presents and assist her in writing articles.

Another exciting aspect of working as a Congresswoman's Press Secretary is that I am involved in making news that is read and analyzed throughout the world. I also enjoy participating in discussions that influence how the Congresswoman will vote on bills ranging from those that authorize war to tax laws.

This experience has also taught me the details of what compels a Members of Congress to vote one way or another. For example, the Congresswoman is always listening to her constituents and concerned about their opinions. When deciding how to vote on a bill, she inquires into the number of letters written to her about that issue, and she'll ask if anyone from her congressional district has called or met with her staff to express their opinion on it.

Since working in this office, I've seen the impact that writing and phoning your Congressman can have in influencing their decision. And I have also seen how an organized community, which has built a solid relationship with a Congressman, can influence how she or he votes on legislation.

The toughest aspect of Capitol Hill is finding the job that you want. Because positions in congressional offices are extremely competitive and being of Iranian descent raised some skeptical eyebrows, I felt at times that I had to conceal my experiences working with Middle Eastern communities. As you can imagine, this was difficult for me to do given that I am proud of my work with Iranian and Arab-American communities. Fortunately, I found an office that considers my unique experiences an asset. My background as an Iranian-American in US politics has enabled me to better understand foreign policy and its impact on people around the world, to communicate with the Congresswoman's Middle Eastern constituency, and to advise her on issues related to Iran and Iranian-Americans.

If you are interested in pursuing opportunities on Capitol Hill then I suggest the following:

1)  Apply to be a congressional page while you are in high school. Contact your Member of Congress for more information. The NIAC website can help you find out who your Member is.
2)  Apply for an unpaid internship in your Representative or Senator's district or Washington office while you are in college. Summer is the most competitive time, so getting a fall or spring internship is usually easier.
3)  Develop a list of Members you would like to work for and network with everybody you know to see if there are any openings in those offices.
4)  Be persistent and professional.

I have found my colleagues on the Hill to be intelligent, interesting people but not as representative of America as Congress could be. My goal is to see more people employed here from different backgrounds — immigrants, people of color and from varying economic levels. To achieve this goal, I have started a program that will bring college students in the Washington area from colorful backgrounds to shadow a congressional staffer for a day to learn about policymaking and life on Capitol Hill. So if you are an Iranian-American college student in the Washington, DC area who would be interested in this opportunity to experience life in the halls of Congress, then please contact me through NIAC at info@niacouncil.org with the subject line of "Capitol Hill Diversity."

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