Meet the Arab American Woman Who is Seeking a Congressional Seat in Michigan
By Weam Namou/Contributing Writer
Born in Dearborn to Lebanese parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, Fayrouz Saad, 34, has always identified herself as an Arab American. She is the middle child of six children and attributes everything she has accomplished to her family.
“I watched them work hard to achieve the American dream and give back to the community,” she said. “They were engaged in inspirational ways.”
Her father owns a meat market in the Detroit area and has always been an active participant in the community. When she was younger, her oldest sisters Samar and Mariam would take her to volunteer at a naturalization ceremony to register people to vote after they became citizens. In May 2017, Mariam Saad Bazzi was appointed to the 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County.
“The attitude and mentality of education and service were cultivated and fostered in my family,” she said. “That being said, I was the first one that moved away from the family, first to Ann Arbor, and then to Washington DC.”
This was a hard transition for her and her family.
“Coming from an Arab American family, we’re very communal and believe in staying close to home,” she said. “It was hard to leave home but we adjusted. I felt I really needed to learn the government better by going to DC.”
Saad was a freshman at the University of Michigan during the September 11 attacks. The post-9/11 policies and legislation, the wars the United States entered into, and how that affected the housing and economy upset her.
“I felt what was happening wasn’t right and I wanted to be part of the solution,” she said. “I wanted to bring about positive change for the community and the country.”
Right out of college, she got involved in the 2004 presidential election. She later worked in Lansing for the State Representative Gino Polidori and then for ACCESS before she was asked by the Obama Administration to work in the Department of Homeland Security.
“The largest issue I worked on is strengthening community policy to build bridges between police and the community they serve,” she said. “It was a really interesting experience.”
Her move to DC was a great opportunity. She grew a lot, met people who helped shape the way she thinks about different policies and the world.
“If you don’t like what’s happening you have to be at the table in order to make the change,” she said. “I had the opportunity to be at the table and make decisions. What I learned is that there are good people who have good intentions and there’s space to make your voice heard, to make a difference.”
Saad also met her husband there. “I’m very grateful for that,” she said.
Yet she remained committed to Michigan, its growth, the opportunities available to it, and the potential it has.
“I was there when Michigan got a bad reputation in the media and I explained to people that that’s now how it is and that it will bounce back,” she said. “I wanted to be part of that change. I called myself the ‘Detroit Cheerleader.’”
After serving in the Obama Administration and completing a Master’s Degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Saad returned home to Michigan. In 2015, she became the first Director of Detroit’s Office of Immigrant Affairs under Mayor Mike Duggan where she helped immigrants integrate into the city, find jobs and start businesses. In March 2017, she married Chris, the man she met in DC. He works for Ford Motor Company.
“I helped increase Michigan’s population by one person,” she said, smiling.
Chris is not of Arab descent yet her family embraced him after they got to know him.
“You have to judge a person by who they are more than where they come from,” she said. “As Arab Americans, we should know the importance of that more than anything.”
She credits her success to her parents for always being open and ready to listen and her sisters and others advocating for her.
“We need to do more of that for each other,” she said about Arab American girls and women. “We have to foster and nurture an environment that helps push them forward.”
For Saad, the rhetoric that came out of the 2016 elections when immigrants and people of color were targeted and blamed made her fight this narrative. She wanted to be a voice for this community by pushing back.
“We shouldn’t target people based on race, religion or ethnic background,” she said. “What’s being said is wrong. People are unhappy with their leadership, the direction the country is going. Once again, I want to be part of the solution.”
So she is running for Congress.
“You can absolutely have the American dream, have success and give back,” she said.
Fayrouz Saad is running for Congress in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.