I didn’t know I’d make history in Canada –Uzoma Asagwara, Canadian lawmaker

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Uzoma

Uzoma Asagwara, born to Nigerian parents, was elected in September 2019, into the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to represent Union Station in Canada. The 35-year-old, who is the first black queer person to win a seat in the assembly, hails from Umuahia in Abia State, She tells Our Source about her childhood, lifestyle and motivation.

What does your victory in the election mean to you?

Personally, it means a great deal. It equally means a great deal to my family, my friends and our community. We worked hard together to be successful and what was most important for me and most important for all of us was making sure that we did this in a way that we would be proud of, with integrity, so that other black people would know that they can aspire to this and be successful.

You are not just one of the three black persons to be elected in 150 years but also the first black queer to be elected. What significance does this have in your view?

It has a great deal of personal significance, considering that there is still a lot of stigma and barriers that LGBTQ (lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer) people face. So, it is important that people know that you can live your life authentically, be a good person, work hard, serve the community and accomplish your dream. For instance, a lot of people, especially women, face a lot of barriers and that really can prevent people from living their best lives and being their best selves. So, I think it is really important that we can acknowledge those challenges and also let people know that being the best version of yourself and being a good person in this world can contribute to your being able to be successful.

Did you think that you would also make history?

I definitely did not have that in mind. When I first considered running, I actually didn’t know. But as soon as I realized that that has never happened, I began to understand how important it was that we were successful because it wasn’t that long ago in Manitoba that the first indigenous woman was elected into the Manitoba legislature.

You must have come a long way with your political campaign. What were the issues of interest to residents of Union District that motivated you to represent them?

So many people are struggling with challenges accessing good health care, affordable housing, and good education, and everybody is worried about climate change. So, in Union District, particularly, a lot of these issues are experienced on a greater level. A lot of people in our community are living in poverty. So, these were issues we were hearing about every single day on the doorsteps. These are issues that our party has always worked hard to make sure we are taking a progressive and compassionate approach. I was proud to run under the New Democratic Party banner, knowing that these are important issues and always have been important for the NDP. The party was very supportive of my background as a registered psychiatrist nurse and as someone who has been working in our community for about 20 years.

How challenging was your campaign?

Running a campaign is very challenging. It is no small task and it requires a level of dedication and understanding of the issues. It requires relationship building skills and a level of commitment from everybody. We campaigned for well over seven months and that required a tremendous amount of work and resources and our approach was taking the grassroots, community approach and involving many people and as many voices as possible in order to be successful.

How did you feel when the election result started coming in?

I was really nervous because you would never know until the result finally comes in whether all your hard work will pay off. So, we were very nervous. We felt confident going into election night because we had done so much hard work and so we were feeling like we had reached as many people as we possibly could and we knew that no other candidate’s team would have outworked us. But when the result finally came in, I was overjoyed. I felt so much gratitude and so much joy that everybody’s hard work paid off.

You have a Nigerian root. Can you tell us briefly about yourself?

I was born in Winnipeg. I’m a first-generation Canadian. My parents are from Umuahia (in Abia State) and they immigrated into Canada in the late 1970s. So, a lot of my community involvement actually comes from my parents’ example as organizers. They really instilled in all their children the importance of being involved in your community and in advocating for your community and that’s really where I think my passion for advocacy for community comes from happening in the world. Those are values that I still work with today and share with other young people I meet and connect with.

 

Have you ever visited Nigeria?

Yes. The last time I was in Nigeria was, I think, in 2013. I would love to go back.

What’s your favourite Nigerian food?

I love our Nigerian jollof rice. We make the best jollof rice in the world. I love fufu, pepper soup, especially in Winnipeg when it gets cold. Pepper soup on a cold day is amazing.

How do you relax?

I exercise. Taking care of my health is important to me. It helps me have energy and get rid of stress.