More Arab Americans should run for public office
By Ali Gadelhak
There are about 450,000 Arab Americans in the Chicagoland area and about 1.7 million Arab Americans in the United States. Of the 535 seats in Congress, Arab Americans occupy seven of them. America needs more Arab Americans in office – at all levels of government. It’s not an issue of proportionality, but rather the diverse life experiences Arab Americans can bring to the table.
Arab Americans are immigrants. Most Arab Americans in the U.S. are first- or second-generation Americans. A not-so-far cry from Irish immigrants of yesterday who subject to signs on stores bearing the big, red letters “NINA” (standing for No Irish Need Apply). While we’ve come a long way since then and passed human rights laws, the sentiment is still present – especially in a post-9/11 world. In this regard, many Arab Americans can identify with other disenfranchised minorities of America. A Congress-person who has lived through the hardships of their constituents is much more effective than a Congress-person who has knowledge of their hardships.
There’s also another crucial immigration-related issue on the national stage that Arab Americans have a stake in: Trump’s devastating immigration policies. There is yet to be a single issue that has bought the Arab- and Latino-American population closer together. Through Trump’s Muslim ban and family separation policy, the two communities have unified their voice and said, “Although the harm on our communities may appear different, it is coming from the same destructive hand”. An Arab American politician ought to understand the intersectionality in the current immigration issue.
Arab Americans are diverse. The premier Arab American think tank based in D.C., the Arab American Institute, considers Americans having origins in 22 countries to be Arab Americans. Those countries include Egypt, Somalia, Qatar, and Sudan. Countries in both Asia and Africa. Countries that each have their own native dialect and different languages altogether.
Countries that have unique foods, political systems, customs, fashion, and way of life. What’s more, about 65% of Arab American population is Christian – a distinct picture from the one we are used to: that Arab is synonymous with Muslim. If there is one thing Arab Americans are good at, it’s connecting with each other through our similarities and cherishing one another’s differences.
An Arab American elected official would be capable of uniting people based on their similar causes and interests and showing respect when they diverge.
Arab Americans are educated yet often come from humble beginnings. About 89% of Arab American adults have high school diplomas. 45% have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 27% of Americans at large. 18% of Arab Americans have a post-graduate degree, which is nearly twice the American average of 10 percent.
However, the modern education system is broken. Student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion in the U.S. A bachelor’s degree is no longer a ticket to the American dream. Graduates are being told they “need more experience” despite being ambitious and intelligent. Let’s understand one thing: A college education is priceless. The purpose of education can be found in Ancient Rome where people learned for the sake of increasing their wealth of knowledge – and not necessarily to just get a job. But the U.S. needs more people who understand the value of a good education, yet don’t take it for granted.
Most of the Arab Americans I grew up with and went to college with required some form of financial aid (including myself) because our parents simply couldn’t write a tuition check every semester. A good politician is a true representative of the people. One who understands that quality college education should be available to everyone who so wishes to attend, without being saddled with mountains of debt.
Arab Americans have become an integral part of American society. As with other negative things in life, the bigotry and misunderstanding directed at our population shall too pass with time, as I often remind those closest to me. But to not have more Arab Americans run for public office would do an extreme disservice to the great people of this country. We are in a unique position where we can relate to the issues facing our brothers and sisters across the country.
The time to bring our life experiences to the table was yesterday.
(Ali Gadelhak is an Illinois Assistant Attorney General in Lisa Madigan’s Special Prosecutions Bureau where he prosecutes white-collar crimes. He is a life-long resident of Chicago’s northside. Email him at email@example.com.)