New Hampshire Elects Afghan Refugee Who Fled Taliban To State House

Safiya Wazir learned English by reading the dictionary.

A woman who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan won election to New Hampshire’s House of Representatives on Tuesday, the first former refugee to win a seat in the state legislature.

Democrat Safiya Wazir, 27, a mother of two who escaped Afghanistan as a child, defeated Republican Dennis Soucy for the seat. She lived in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan for 10 years, was resettled in Concord in 2007, and learned English as she made her way through high school, studying the dictionary at night.

“All I was thinking was about my education and going forward with my life to make my life better,” she told Rolling Stone.

Wazir, a member of the board of directors for Community Action Program of Belknap-Merrimack Counties and the vice chair of the Head Start Policy Council, campaigned on a platform highlighting housing, school safety and educational improvements.

“She’s one of the reasons I registered,” Gopal Timsina, a Nepalese immigrant who voted for the first time Tuesday, told the Concord Monitor. “It’s great to see minorities stepping up. And it’s good to see (refugees), because they’ve been through a lot and some tough times, but now they can be whatever they want.”

Wazir’s campaign faced challenges that included discomfort from her pregnancy and anti-immigrant vitriol.

“We have many immigrants in there now, and she’s [Wazir] from Afghanistan, so she was treated like the princess,” state Rep. Dick Patten, the four-term incumbent who Wazir defeated in the primary, said in September.

Wazir joins a handful of other minority female candidates boasting historic wins in Tuesday’s midterms. Two Native American women, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, won congressional races, as did New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will become the youngest woman elected to Congress.