It’s prominent today in the national political spectrum: right-wing ideologues increasingly portray American immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, as the people responsible for U.S. society’s problems. From violence to narcotics to unemployment, immigrant communities should be held accountable for all of these things, according to contemporary conservative rhetoric.
Less often does American media spotlight the contributions of immigrants like Gisele Barreto Fetterman, who grew up in the U.S. undocumented after fleeing Brazil with her family as a child. Her life’s work, which is based on kindness and giving, stands as a challenge to the vile stereotypes spewed by right-wing commentators.
Now, there is a chance she will be able to further this challenge as the next second lady of Pennsylvania.
Gisele’s husband, John Fetterman, with whom she has three young children, announced earlier this month that he is running to become lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania in 2018. As the mayor of Braddock, an economically depleted community just east of Pittsburgh, John’s efforts to revitalize the once-thriving steel town over the past 12 years have garnered national attention.
While her husband has worked to make Braddock a safer, more prosperous place to live, Gisele has established herself as a strong community leader and respected activist in Western Pennsylvania. In 2012, she founded the Free Store, an entirely volunteer-driven organization that receives surplus and donated goods then redistributes them at no cost to neighbors in need. Since opening the first Free Store in Braddock, the concept has expanded to nine other locations in Pennsylvania.
Like her husband, she is hoping to use her potential role as second lady to broaden her own platform, expanding the philanthropic initiatives that she has spearheaded. For Gisele, being a formerly undocumented immigrant in such a public position would also be accompanied with a certain meaning.
“It’s sending a message to every immigrant in this country that we belong here too and we’re a part of this, and we love our country just as much as anyone else does,” Gisele said during an interview with AL DÍA. “It would be amazing to be able to represent that.”
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