According to the 2000 Census, there were approximately 1.25 million people living in the United States who self-identified as Arab. But many advocates estimate the Arab American population to be three times that size—over 3.5 million.
By Rima Marrouch, FI2W contributor
Despite the internal divisions in the Arab world, Arab-Americans came together recently in New York City to celebrate their heritage and to offer a fresh portrait of the Arab-American community in the post 9-11 era.
Arabs, Americans, and Arab-Americans –with roots in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, and the Palestinian Occupied Territories– gathered during the Annual Arab-American and North African Street Festival on Great Jones Street in Downtown Manhattan. The event was part of the 5th Annual Arab-American Heritage Week, first proclaimed in 2005 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The street festival evoked the atmosphere of a bazaar with traditional foods including tabouli, grape leaves, falafel, and spinach pies, as well as street stalls selling Middle Eastern books, jewelry, and music. The participants danced debka, a form of line dance widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions.
Watch a video of the festival:
As America votes Tuesday, we will bring you reports from polling places in immigrant and ethnic neighborhoods across the U.S.
Follow Election Day from the perspective of immigrant journalists in battleground states Florida and New Hampshire, as well as Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York.
- We’ll tell you how the election is going for first-time voters.
- We’ll cover efforts to make sure that voting goes smoothly in immigrant neighborhoods and that all the votes are counted.
- We’ll report on the mood among Latino, Chinese, Haitian, Arab and South Asian voters as they cast their ballots in this historic election.
- We’ll bring you photos of voting in immigrant communities across the country.
There are at least 3.5 million Americans of Arab descent. Those who are following the presidential race cannot be happy with the latest news from the McCain campaign.
In a scene that will be replayed on YouTube and cable news through the weekend, Gayle Quinnell, an elderly female Republican supporter at a rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, tells John McCain that Barack Obama is “an Arab” when questioning the Democrat’s fitness to lead the country.
McCain, as you can see in the video, snatches the microphone from her hand and counters: “No ma’am, no ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not. Thank you.”
The video also includes a post-rally interview with Quinnell. According to The Uptake.org, the reporters present were Noah Kunin, The UpTake’s senior political correspondent, Adam Aigner of NBC News and Dana Bash of CNN. [The interview was taped with a cellphone camera in a noisy place, but a full transcript is available at The Uptake link above.]
Quinnell, who’s 75 years old, said she obtained information on Obama from the Shakopee, Minn., local library and from another Republican volunteer at a McCain campaign office. She added she’s sent out 400 copies of a letter containing that information to local people so they can decide “if they would want Obama.”
When asked why she thinks Obama is Arab, Quinnell answers “because his dad is.” When CNN’s Dana Bash interjects that Barack Obama’s father was in fact a Muslim, Quinnell seems a bit confused about the terms. She finally says, “Yeah, but he’s still got Muslim in him. So that’s still part of him. I got all the stuff from the library and I could send you all kinds of stuff on him.”
This article was written by Antoine Faisal, publisher of the Arab American newspaper Aramica. He was part of a group of ethnic media journalists who covered the Democratic National Convention in Denver under the sponsorship of Feet in Two Worlds and the New York Community Media Alliance.
For weeks prior to the convention, the question on my mind was, ‘What do Arab Americans want – from the convention, from Obama, from the Democratic Party?’ I thought I could answer those questions with confidence but a shift has occurred both from within and outside our community that has significantly altered my perspective on our community’s place in the American political landscape.
At this year’s DNC, there were over 40 Arab Americans participating either as members of DNC standing committees or as delegates.
Former Congresswoman and current president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Mary Rose Oakar served as the chairperson for the DNC Rules Committee (the committee responsible for proposing the Permanent Rules for the convention, adopting the proposed convention agenda and making recommendations for permanent convention officers) while Dr. James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute served as the Convener of the Democratic National Ethnic Coordinating Council (DNECC).
Also, the Obama campaign’s official website has launched an Arab American page.
It’s already a madhouse at the Sheraton – the main venue for caucuses, meetings, and major schmoozing. I am focused on finding people to answer my questions – the only people who can answer my questions – fellow Arab Americans: delegates, activists, politicians, attendees.
I have an itinerary I am supposed to follow but decide to fly solo and see where my curiosity takes me. I am handsomely rewarded for my journalistic knack of sniffing out a story when I run into an old friend of mine at the American Muslim caucus.
She invites me to tag along to a press briefing: ‘A Key Demographic in the Battleground States: Dr. James Zogby and Arab Americans at the Convention’ where, Eureka! The mother lode! Arab American delegates, activists, community leaders, and politicians – many whose faces and names have appeared in the pages of Aramica on numerous occasions – all in one room, psyched to be at the convention, and happy to answer my questions.
I spoke first with Ismael Ahmed, Director of the Michigan Department of Human Services and co-founder of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). Mr. Ahmed has been involved in politics as a community activist for the better part of 3 decades.
Far from being a convention newbie, this is his 7th time attending the DNC. He has sat on the Platform Committee and the Rules Committee, as well as having been a regular delegate 5 times. He is now the co-chair of the Michigan State Democratic Party.
Also at the briefing was Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward Councilman of Paterson, NJ. This was his first convention. Not a delegate, Mr. Sayegh traveled to Denver to support his party and his community.
Unity within Diversity
Given the rich diversity of the Arab American convention-goers, including Dr. Zogby, Mr. Ahmed, and Mr. Sayegh, the responses given by those who participated in my ‘survey’ were astonishingly similar both in content and tone, which was decidedly upbeat and confident.
Staunch Obama supporters; the general consensus is that Obama is an “extraordinary candidate” and that Arab Americans are going to play an important role in the outcome of this election and beyond. His views on the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and American withdrawal from Iraq are the only reasonable, realistic ones presented and what is right not just for Arab Americans but for the entire nation.
Senator Joe Biden is viewed as a good choice for vice president, even if there are issues on which he and Obama differ because, ultimately, it is Obama defining the ticket, not Biden. But Biden’s experience in the Senate and with foreign policy will be an advantage.
Nobody believes Arab American ‘issues’ are that different from any other American’s issues: healthcare, education, immigration, poverty, the economy – they are all matters of great importance to everyone and more importantly, of grave importance for our nation.
This, above all else, is what distinguished the Arab American delegates and community leaders at the DNC – their vision is inclusive, for the entire nation, not just for Arab Americans. They see a bigger picture – one in which Arab Americans do not stand alone but are an integral part of the Democratic Party and the nation.
Even on an issue of potential discord, such as the resignation of Mazen Al Asbahi as the Obama campaign’s Michigan outreach coordinator, there was unity of opinion that Mr. Al Asbahi took the high road, chose to stay involved, and that is what is important – not to focus on, as Mr. Ahmed described it, the inevitable, “bumps in the road,” we travel to reach our destination.
The 2008 Democratic National Convention – the finale after two years of fierce campaigning – was an historic occasion marking a truly monumental event: the first ever nomination of an African American by a major American political party.
A victory not just for African Americans, it marks a moment of arrival for all American minority groups – including Arab Americans – whose presence and participation at the 2008 Democratic National Convention will reverberate post-election, resulting in an even larger showing at the 2012 DNC. Quite an extraordinary accomplishment for one of the US’s smaller minority groups and one about which each and every one of us can be proud.
You can listen to the conversation here:
The Brian Lehrer Show is broadcasting live from the Democratic National Convention. Listen for more of Brian’s conversations with ethnic media reporters throughout the week.
Rashida Tlaib is poised to make history. The Palestinian attorney overwhelmingly beat eight other candidates in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Detroit, and appears on her way to becoming the only Arab-Muslim woman in the Michigan House of Representatives. The majority-Latino neighborhood where she campaigned borders the largest concentrated Arab community in the US.
Although this was only the primary election, the district is more than 90 percent Democratic and there is rarely a credible Republican candidate.
As we noted earlier this week Tlaib’s candidacy was controversial from the start. Latino leaders in the district felt the seat in Michigan’s 12th House District belonged to them. The mostly Mexican community has a long history in Detroit going back almost 100 years, yet has no political representation in the state legislature.
Community leader Elena Herrada of the Centro Obrero criticized Tlaib in an interview with Feet in Two Worlds. “Rashida actually represents the majority of white voters,” Herrada said, “the new people, the younger people who came into the narrative very late.” Herrada also claims Tlaib is a protégé of current 12th District State Representative, Steve Toboccman, who is the Majority Floor Leader in the Michigan House, and who did not seek reelection because of term limits.
Tlaib also was attacked for being a Muslim Arab.
“Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian Muslim extremist whose candidacy was touted across the country on extremist Muslim and anti-Israel mailing lists, is unfortunately a viable candidate for this seat,” posted Debbie Schlussel, a conservative blogger based in Michigan.
Schlussel want on to say, “Tlaib was a top official at ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, the agency that gets millions in your tax money to help illegal aliens, fight immigration laws and supports Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Despite the attacks Tlaib won, and won big. She captured 44 percent of the vote, beating her closest competitor by 770 votes.
Her campaign team and volunteers were ecstatic. “We were so tired but when we found out we won I felt that all of that hard work paid off,” said 17-year old Latina Cynthia Carrillo. Carrillo had never worked on a campaign and says it empowered her as a young woman. “I thought politics was a bunch of rich men giving their opinions,” she said. “I learned that women could be in politics too.”
Tlaib’s story is also significant because, some believe, her success also helps break stereotypes about Arab women. “We’re fed up with seeing the same recycled images of Muslim women in the mainstream media, images that repeatedly depict women as passive and helpless,” wrote filmmaker Jolene Pinder. Pinder produced a film called Election Day featuring Tlaib.
Although Tlaib is celebrating her victory, she now must work with Latino leaders who did not support her candidacy. She also must deal with the troubles of a culturally vibrant yet economically distressed community. The district is rampant with drugs, crime and blight, and as part of Detroit, suffers from the highest unemployment rate in the country for any metro area.
Southwest Detroit is home to Michigan’s largest immigrant community. Before running for state representative, Tlaib built her career working on immigrant isssues. “She comes from an immigrant rights background, and that is a tough message in a post 9/11 world,” said Rep. Toboccman.
This article was written by Feet in Two Worlds reporter Martina Guzman.
Feet in Two Worlds reporter Martina Guzmán profiled Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American candidate running for state representative in a primarily Latino district in southwest Detroit, for WDET, Detroit Public Radio.
Martina’s story aired yesterday. You can listen to it by pressing play here:[audio:http://wdet.org/audio/articles/Tlaib.mp3]
This is the first collaboration between Feet in Two Worlds and WDET, our newest radio partner.
Cross-Cultural Campaigning: In a Heavily-Latino District, Rashida Tlaib Runs to be the First Muslim Woman in the Michigan Legislature
Michigan’s 12th House District is predominantly Latino, but the district borders the largest concentrated Middle Eastern community in the United States. Arab American, Rashida Tlaib, grew up on the Latino side of the district. She is running for state representative in today’s Democratic primary in one of Detroit’s most contested elections, and is the front-runner in a race that has 9 candidates vying for the seat.
Tlaib’s campaign strategy is simple, walk the entire district twice and knock on the doors of more than eight thousand voters. Her approach seems to be working. Residents call her by her first name, and her unassuming demeanor and easy smile can disarm residents of some of the toughest Detroit neighborhoods.
Her grassroots approach has also inspired a core group of college-age Arabic and Latina women to faithfully volunteer on her campaign. The young women walk the district along with the candidate, make phone calls in Arabic and Spanish, put up signs and organize fundraisers.
Although Tlaib has inspired a faithful following, not everyone in the Latino stronghold is excited about the young Palestinian attorney running for office. Local resident and community activist, Elena Herrada says the district is predominantly Mexican, and a Latina like former State Representative Belda Garza should hold that seat. Garza was the first Latina elected to the Michigan legislature in 1998 and served two terms before losing to current State Representative Steve Tobocman in 2002. Garza is running again in this election.