10 Arab Americans Urging you to Vote: Emad Sharkawy
By: Diala Ghneim/Arab America Contributing Writer
I spoke with ten Arab Americans about voting. These individuals come from different age groups, industries, and political orientations. They are teachers, lawyers, students, stay at home mothers, IT professionals, etc…. They are active members of American society and they are all voting on November 3rd. This article is Emad Sharkawy’s interview, and one of a series of ten articles (one for each interview).
You can find your state and register to vote here.
Emad Sharkawy, 40, IT
Tell me about your background, career and immigration story.
I am an IT Quality Analyst and a first-generation Arab American who grew up in a suburb outside of Dallas, Texas.
My parents were born and raised in Egypt, but they immigrated to America in 1969. When they first arrived to the US, they settled in the New York/New Jersey area for 10 years. My father was an accountant for a major condiment company; however, an entrepreneurship opportunity from Texas presented itself and he became intrigued to open his own business. As a result, my parents decided to migrate down to Texas where I was born in 1980.
My father began owning chain convenient stores and my mother worked as a teller for Bank of America. They both continued in these jobs until they retired in 2000. I grew up having two working parents, and that played a significant role in shaping my perspectives about many topics.
By the time I turned 20, my brother and I moved to the northern Virginia area where he took a job working for the US government. I studied Business Management with a minor in Marketing at Penn State University and I worked in the Virginia area for 8 years before returning to Texas.
Why are you voting? What are the issues you care most about?
I had five opportunities to vote for presidential elections and I voted four out of the five times. I don’t have a political affiliation whatsoever. My first votes were Republican, but when Obama ran in 2008, I voted Democrat and haven’t been a Republican since. For this particular election, I am voting because of everything going on, especially with the racial injustice cases happening in the past few months. I believe it is time to voice your opinion and vote for change.
I vote to exercise my right as an American citizen. A lot of people can’t vote for many reasons. Voting is a privilege and you should exercise it.
When voting, I look for a candidate’s stance on foreign policy and I look at tax raises. I also take into consideration the candidate’s personal views and ask myself if their views are aligned with mine. For example, the past 4 years made it hard for Muslims to view the current president as someone working on behalf of their people. As a Muslim, it’s difficult to align with his views. When you look at this situation from a different perspective you ask yourself, “I align myself with a little portion of this President’s views. What is my other option? Okay, I align myself more with the other option’s views.” I consider myself a moderate, a person who is in the middle. For me, I see the Democratic party as a humanitarian voice that I lean more towards, but I also side with the Republican views on certain things, especially tax policy. I have mixed views. It really is based on the candidate and the candidate’s values.
In your opinion, what are the challenges that face the Arab/Muslim community in the US?
Arab Americans face discrimination. They face racial discrimination, workplace discrimination, racial profiling and hate crimes. Negative portrayal of Arabs in certain industries and in the media also affects our community.
There needs to be a movement from our side that challenges these stereotypes. We need to band together and form collective actions until we are heard. I was actually inspired by the latest NFL incidents. For years, NFL players boycotted the national anthem; the American public looked down negatively upon that. But recently, it has been changing, you started hearing comments like ‘they were right. It is okay for these players to take such a stance as racial injustice is plaguing the country’. Additionally, the NFL issued a statement admitting their previous views on this issue was wrong. This whole situation changed the American public’s opinion on protests in general. This is the type of change that the Muslim community needs to address discrimination.
While I fully recognize the different types of discrimination facing the Arab American community, I’m not a fan of overgeneralizing. America offers numerous chances for all to excel and do well for themselves. My brother had amazing opportunities working for the US government , he never looked upon his experiences negatively. These experiences allowed him to grow and he greatly enjoyed his job and his coworkers. My brother was never treated unfairly or discriminated against, on the contrary, he would get specific opportunities because of who he was as an Arab and as a fluent Arabic speaker. He had fellow Arab coworkers too and they had similar experiences as him.
What would you tell people from your community who believe their votes won’t make a difference?
Sadly, I know several people who have never voted before because of this thought pattern. My perspective on this has changed and I’ll tell you the reason why. In the past I had this mentality too and I had it because I grew up in Texas. Texas was and still is a predominantly red state.
When you live in a Republican state and you know your state is voting Republican, then I can understand that mentality of ‘well, my vote doesn’t really matter, what is the point of voting, its already going to happen. The state is red, why would I waste my time?’ I understand that perspective, however the state has changed dramatically that both the Democrat and Republican vote are close now. Its right on the verge. Your vote does matter now. That’s what I would tell people.
There are many people who are indifferent in our community and many of them have been marginalized. I would also tell these people: ‘When you don’t vote, you are comfortably giving the side you don’t want your vote.’ Your vote matters and will make a difference now. I know it’s all about the electoral college but still I think the common vote means something too.
Parting words for all IT professionals in your industry on voting.
Many people wonder if international policy affects IT or if the latest US-China developments will have any impact on IT. It might in a minimal regard, but for the most part, IT is standalone from politics. International IT is pretty much running on a function of international business. One cool thing about the IT sector is that it is actually very heavily Muslim populated to the top. And it’s heartwarming to see highly powered Muslims in IT running big companies and big banks across the globe.
IT is a strong, growing field. For our industry, it doesn’t matter who is in office; there are still going to be IT jobs. What might be worth considering is the decline of jobs or job losses if a recession hits, but that could happen with any party. It goes both ways. We dealt with recession under Republicans and we’ve been through them with Democrats.
Most of the people I work with, who are part of the IT industry aren’t going to devalue voting. All people within my professional network are intelligent individuals who will go vote. There might be others who won’t, and I would tell them you are way too intelligent to be wasting your vote when your vote could actually mean something this year in particular.
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