A journey from Kenya to Virginia and being the first Kenyan-born woman to seek a congressional seat

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By Mukurima Muriuki

Born in Nairobi, raised in Kiambu and Gatundu, Kenya, Jacqueline Nyambura Kimotho-Gonzalez showed a passion for justice at a young age translating into a life of work leading her to a career in politics.  The oldest of five, Jacqueline learned early on the responsibility of caretaking and support within the domestic sphere, taught by her audacious and extraordinary, single mother.  A sense of responsibility which carried itself to a presence in her community, whether it be cutting fair slices of bread for everyone at dinner or helping children being bullied in her class.  At times she even would play the role of advocate and leader for her peers in class, asking for justice for anything from the manner in which tests were graded to ensuring all students were being treated fairly.  The passion for politics and justice revealed itself early on and through a successful career in Kenya, Jacqueline immigrated to America continuing in a number of state government campaigns and positions, an emphasis in grassroots movements to safeguard the engagement of all people in policy making.

With a no frills upbringing, Jacqueline’s mother was insistent on her education.  She attended St. Peter and Paul’s Catholica pre-school in Kiambu followed by a brief time at Gicoco Primary School before relocating to Ngorongo.  Here she began her education at Ndkei Primary School until her resilient mother, despite challenges, found a way to send her to St. Michael Girls boarding school in Kerugoya.   Knowing the sacrifices her mother made to always give her children the best, Jacqueline dove head first into studies earning her the top KCPE spot in the Kirinyaga District, therefore the top spot at Kenya High School.  Jacqueline’s political interests formed early on but with continuing education began to realize the flaws within the system.  Learning of government in early years of school, only having one president and a one party system had seemed second nature, however she came to realize there was little to be inspired with this level of government control.  The first political figures she encountered in studies were Koigi Wa Wamwere, Kenneth Matiba, and Wangari Mathaai and credits their community activism to the foundation for her growing political beliefs and desire to learn more.

And the experience at Kenya High School immensely broadened her world; she first felt inspired by the environmental protection movements and after a chance to study abroad in Germany during the summer of 1995, found their clean environment a motivation for future educational and career decisions. With the provisions of more examples of political activism on the national level, she learned of Dr. Ouko, Hon.Orengo, Hon. Shikuku, Hon. Raila Odinga-and understanding how their thought processes impacted the world she lived in.  As a teenager, the fearlessness of those who thought outside of the political box drove her to learn about issues of corruption: the environment, the plight of homeless children, and to what she could begin to grasp of the concept of free speech.   It was a period in her life when Wangari Maathai and her work with the Greenbelt Movement felt concrete and increasingly applicable in Kenya, so after graduation Jacqueline chose to pursue Environmental Studies at Kenyatta University.

Taking every opportunity available, Jacqueline’s work ethic and sense of community presented her a number of work experiences.  The dean of Kenyatta overheard Jacqueline and friends conversing in German and quickly recommended she reach out to Dr. Manfred Van Eckert for a summer practicum at their IFTSP project.  Despite the three month term, she stayed longer as many universities were closed due to riots.  Upon returning to Kenyatta University, Jacqueline became involved with the Uvumbuzi Club, an environmental society known in Nairobi for hosting a huge annual Bikathon to fundraise for an environmental necessity each year.  Jacqueline took a position within the society and worked as their Secretariat Coordinator until her graduation from Kenyatta University.  With the breadth of experience in her undergraduate studies, Jacqueline had her sights set on pursuing a graduate degree in Europe, preferably Germany, the Netherlands, or Britain.  Yet plans change when least expected and while working in a field study unit in Kitale Jacqueline met a group of American missionaries and formed a tight knit friendship.  Over the next three years they would reunite in Kitale as the missionaries returned, always extending an invitation to Jacqueline to visit the United States.  While interested in the American belief system she politely declined having little interest in America over Europe.  After graduation she took a position as an Agricultural Officer at the UNHCR Refugee Camp in Kakuma under the guidance of Dr. Van Eckert and worked until May of 2002 brought the fold to finally take the adventure in America.

“When I landed in Dulles airport just twenty-six miles outside of Washington, D.C. I did not know what to expect of the new country.  Despite my expansive cultural knowledge and work experience, I faced the same challenges many immigrants do when arriving in a new country on their own. I was lonely without the community cultivated at home and the experience of being the big fish in a little pond thrown into a seemingly endless ocean,” remembers Jacqueline of her first time being in the United States.

 For Jacqueline her body was in America with her heart residing in Kenya.  It was the ultimate decision to fully embrace her new life that brought her to the fast track to establishing a successful life in the United States.  She began working in retail and eventually banking on a local and corporate level and began to build her reputation as an employee; no matter the country a good name is always a benefit.

“In August of 2002, while attending a Christian camp in Virginia, I met my husband Manuel, a native New Yorker.  We married a year later in Richmond, Virginia, and we decided to settle roots and fourteen years later we are still happily married with two beautiful children” add Jacqueline.

Despite neither having biological family or strong ties to Virginia, a warm group of friends and a church family became an integral part of their lives and made the decision easy.  Personal interests in the rich history of the country and ability to study the origins of the United States and its policies did not hurt in Jacqueline’s opinions either.  With two children, Jacqueline opted to leave the nine to five bank schedules to raise their kids as a stay at home mom before they were school age.  The decision was one that would eventually lead Jacqueline back to her roots and interests in political activism.

During her time raising her young children, she helped plant a church, became a substitute teacher, and took classes on nursing in order to work with homebound patients.  The immersion into the inner working of the American culture allowed her to see the real roots of the country; to see both challenges faced by the people and to brainstorm solutions within the education and healthcare systems.  It brought her back to her days of working in university in Kenya, absorbing the culture around her and having an active role despite having less experience.  As a college student she was heavily involved from volunteer work to inclusion in a task force to write Kenya’s position paper for the Earth Summit RIO+10 held in Johannesburg in 2002.  As a fully-fledged citizen of the United States she felt the same drive and necessity to continue the work in this country as well.  Public policy was again a forefront in her political goals and she began to take the necessary steps to climb the ladder in American politics.

In 2012, Jacqueline stepped out of her ideological bubble and began to turn thought into action.  Entering the political arena, she began working for Randy Forbes’ Congressional Campaign as the Community Outreach Coordinator.  From this launching pad she found a number of positions and career growth and soon took a position as a Grassroots Coordinator for the Family Foundation, a state level non-profit advocacy group.  Here she created and led a number of successful statewide outreach and prayer programs.  In March of 2016, compelled with a desire to provide real representation for citizens she began a campaign for a Republican congressional seat in the 4th district of Virginia.

“As a Republican potential, I stand for the party’s sense of justice and protection of all citizens.  I was a Republican before even moving to this country.” Jokes Jacqueline.

Growing up in a country where there was little choice in government she relishes in the ability of choice and the fruitful opportunities of the free enterprise system.  With God as a moral fiber to the nation as the founding fathers believed, Jacqueline finds passion in individual freedoms and responsibility to work for economic justice and reach collective human potential.  Her biggest arguments when trying to relate to peers back in Kenya is to present the effects of the ‘nanny-state’ government and tries to explain the design to pick winners and losers seen in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea.  To Jacqueline, moving to the United States was not only an adventure to pursue but found a path to validate the years of investment into studying and experiencing political policy across a range of communities and government systems.

Currently completing her graduate degree at Regent University, Jacqueline continues to successfully balance life in the domestic sphere while continuing grassroots activism within her community.  Through a supportive husband and community of church family and friends, Jacqueline as the ability to work flexible yet non-stop political hours without losing a sense of self or her core values as many politicians seem to these days.  Raised by a strong woman with an early sense of what justice meant, Jacqueline was destined for a life in the political spectrum, to help those in need and to allow them to regain their voice in policy.  As a public servant, Jacqueline both speaks and emboldens the community to find a voice to express need and work towards a fair quality of life.

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