By Josh Kasoff Anyone acknowledging the exceptionalism of America must admit that almost every significant milestone that the United States has achieved has been due to the hard work and the tireless dedication of immigrants and refugees from across the world. In his multi-Tony award winning play Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda wrote “Immigrants: We […]
By Josh Kasoff
Anyone acknowledging the exceptionalism of America must admit that almost every significant milestone that the United States has achieved has been due to the hard work and the tireless dedication of immigrants and refugees from across the world. In his multi-Tony award winning play Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda wrote “Immigrants: We get the job done.” And this lyric rings true throughout the most documented chapters of American history. From military history to economic history to legislative history, immigrants have truly always been the true backbone of our great nation.
Such marvelous American engineering feats such as the construction of the Statue of Liberty, Hoover Dam and both the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads heavily relied upon the labor of immigrants. Many massively influential and industry-revolutionizing companies were also started by immigrants and refugees escaping horrifying persecution. Google, a site and multi-use platform used everyday, was started by Sergey Brin, who escaped anti-semitic persecution by The Communist Party in the Soviet Union. eBay, the e-commerce site that created the very first online auction room for almost any product and collectable imaginable, was founded by Pierre Omidyar who’s an immigrant born in Paris from parents who were Iranian immigrants to France. His father, Dr. Cyrus Omidyar, brought his family to Baltimore when he received a residency at Johns Hopkins University.
Levi Strauss and Co. was founded by a German immigrant of the same name. Even Chobani, the Greek-style yogurt company that became the number one company in the sale and production of the strained yogurt variety, was founded by Hamdi Ulukaya who immigrated from Turkey due to their oppression of the Kurdish people. Ulukaya stayed true to his fellow immigrants in his operations and success of Chobani, as about 30 percent of Chobani’s employees are immigrants or refugees. The strained yogurt company hosted a World Refugee Forum this past August.
The database and document-hosting platform SlideShare was founded by Rashmi Sinha, an immigrant from India who originally came to America to complete a PhD program in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Brown University. In 2012, LinkedIn purchased SlideShare for $118 million and Sinha was listed as one of Fortune Magazine’s Top 10 Entrepreneurs that year along with several more accolades celebrating her entrepreneurial success and strategies.
After the recent midterm elections in November, Las Vegas is now fortunate enough to have another example of an exceptional immigrant from India who’s thrived and given back to his community in innumerable ways who’s now serving in the Nevada Assembly.
Born in Mumbai, India, Reuben D’Silva immigrated with his family to the United States in 1987 when he was two years old. First living in Queens before venturing out to Northeast Las Vegas at the age of six, D’Silva and his parents became very involved in many aspects of their adoptive community such as St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, which D’Silva described as having a very immigrant-heavy membership.
In his teenage years, D’Silva attended Rancho High School and became the Senior Class President in 2003. For the beginning of his college education, he stayed local and attended the College of Southern Nevada. However after Operation Iraqi Freedom broke out and President Dubya subsequently stood in front of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner only weeks into the conflict, D’Silva felt that he had to serve in the Armed Forces for his adoptive country that gave his family so many opportunities.
“I strongly believe in giving back to this country. This was the way of showing commitment to the nation and giving back to a country that was one of the greatest blessings of my life to be raised in. We were blessed to be raised in this nation.” the teacher and Assemblyman explained.
In 2007, D’Silva enlisted in the Marine Corps and was soon deployed out to Iraq and directly into Fallujah, the city where some of that war’s bloodiest and costliest battles ensued.
On the night of June 6, 2007, D’Silva served as a turret gunner while his mission had been completing a resupply mission in the war-torn city when his convoy started receiving enemy fire. In the resulting crossfire, he was shot by an insurgent sniper through his forearm yet still returned fire on the turret gun until his convoy could escape. While D’Silva considers himself incredibly fortunate to have survived that fateful day, the injury effectively brought an end to his time serving in Iraq.
In total, D’Silva spent a year in recovery and rehabilitation from that sniper’s bullet. After his year at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, he returned back to his Northeast Las Vegas community and completed a bachelor’s degree in History from UNLV. As his graduation fell right in the middle of the height of the 2008 recession, D’Silva had trouble finding employment despite being a veteran on top of many accomplishments already. Following earning his Bachelor’s, he then was simultaneously accepted to Master’s programs at both The University of Pennsylvania and Columbia, both of which have Ivy League distinction.
“I decided to go to The University of Pennsylvania in Philly because the program was more diverse. It was a Master’s program in global affairs. After finishing that degree, I applied and was accepted into the Master’s program at Yale where I got more focused on my actual academic interest. That is the role that religion plays in conflict and diplomatic processes. So, I completed my degree at Yale in Comparative Religion and Politics.” D’Silva recollected.
Being a graduate of two different Ivy League schools, D’Silva likely had many choices for employment across the country. Although, in a decision that showed his undying dedication to his Las Vegas community several years before he would eventually run for a seat in the Nevada Assembly, the immigrant-turned-Purple Heart veteran decided to move back to Vegas to become a teacher in a desperately lacking statewide education system.
“It was the community that raised me and the community that I’m from. And I strongly believe in public education and I strongly believed that this was my calling to come back and to be a high school history teacher at the very same high school that I graduated from. It’s the best decision I ever made professionally.”
D’Silva is even so committed to his teaching career and his alma mater, Rancho High School, that we conducted our interview over the phone while he was sitting in his very own classroom.
After several years of living in Nevada Assembly District 28 and being an incredibly involved teacher on multiple levels at Rancho High School, D’Silva took the next important step in becoming the best example of an unwavering community leader and organizer. The immigrant, Purple Heart veteran and Ivy League graduate would make a foray into local politics and represent the Assembly District that he calls home.
One notable individual that D’Silva thanks for inspiring him not only educationally but also giving him inspiration to run for public office is City Councilman Isaac Barron, who D’Silva fondly remembers as his soccer coach in high school and who still teaches at Rancho to this day.
Following months of campaigning and making appearances at events across the Las Vegas Valley such as Chamber of Cannabis’ recent Meet the Candidates event in September, Reuben D’Silva won the general election in a landslide to serve as District 28’s Assemblyman. As an almost lifelong resident of the district, he knows the issues that are most dire and pressing within District 28.
As anyone who’s aware of what parts of Las Vegas are served versus underserved knows, District 28 is bitterly depressed economically and socially. Just to get a movie theater alone, Councilman Barron had to fight tooth and nail for a considerably long time. Families living in District 28 on average make more than $10,000 less than families living outside of the district and access to employment is also lacking in the district. Quality employment opportunities aren’t as plentiful in District 28 and in the most northeastern corner of District 28, there’s not even a hospital located in the district.
If one were to have a medical emergency in that area, the journey to a hospital could take up to 30 minutes. The lack of a decent hospital in this area of District 28 could be deadly in those emergency situations.
And although The Silver State is a pioneer in reformative cannabis legislation such as Assembly Bill 341 and mass expungement programs, Nevada’s education system is desperately lacking and “chronically underfunded” as D’Silva describes. According to the Department of Education, Nevada was ranked 49th in the National Education Rankings for a variety of reasons.
D’Silva sees a solution to the underfunding and subsequent disadvantages of Nevada’s education as a multi-year process that can’t simply be done by just a new piece of legislation.
From many estimates, D’Silva said that Nevada will need at least an additional $2 to $2.5 billion every two years to be properly funded from where the education system is currently at. Even though Nevada cannabis generated a total of $152 million in total tax revenue this past year, it’s hardly a fraction of what these estimates say the state will need.
“That’s a major priority of mine.” D’Silva explained. “Creating better educational opportunities for the children of our district. Personally, it’s my number one issue. I’m a teacher. I’m an educator. I’m very involved in the teachers’ union. I know the politics around education best out of all the issues. The stronger investments we make in education, particularly education that will impact families in Northeast Las Vegas, the stronger the magnifying effect will be for the state.”
Within the cannabis industry, D’Silva believes in increasing access to cannabis licenses for Las Nevadans who don’t come from wealth and for social equity applicants. He also supports fully descheduling and legalizing at the federal level to remedy the many financial and tax-related disadvantages that canna-businesses currently have. An accessible and affordable cannabis industry on the federal level is one that D’Silva describes as “the future”.
“If they don’t have any sort of violent or any serious infractions of the law that they may have been involved with, then they should be allowed to participate in the industry.”
Despite his remarkable upbringing and background as well as being a newly elected Nevada State Assemblyman, D’Silva stays humble about his story and will still just as passionately continue his career in educating students at Rancho High School.
“Everyone thinks my story is so remarkable. But I just think it’s the story of someone raised by a hard-working immigrant family and utilizing the opportunities that this country has given to us.”