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10 Arab Americans Urging you to Vote: Hanan Kashou

posted on: Oct 23, 2020

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 Hanan Kashou’s interview, and one of a series of ten articles (one for each interview).

You can find your state and register to vote here.

Hanan Kashou, 39, Higher Education

Tell me about your background, career, and immigration story.

I am a Lebanese American of Palestinian descent. I was born in Beirut, Lebanon during the civil war. The war in Lebanon was brutal, it  forced many Palestinian and Lebanese people to leave the country. My father was killed during the war when I was four years old and my mother suddenly found herself responsible for raising three children all on her own. Luckily, my maternal uncles and my maternal grandfather were already living in the US at the time. After our own personal tragedy, they encouraged us to immigrate to America. Due to the war, the American embassy in Lebanon was bombed and not operating; I remember we had to leave for Cyprus to wait for our visas to be processed. 

Once we were approved, we moved to Ohio and that’s where I grew up. I was 7 years old then.  

Being raised by a single immigrant mother in the US was not easy. My mother struggled. She had to learn a new language and she had to work to support me and my brothers. At one point, she was doing both. She would work in an admin position during the day and attended English classes in the evening. My entire mother’s focus was on education. Generally speaking, I believe Palestinians place a huge importance on education. If you do a quick research on Palestinian immigrant communities around the world, you will find that a majority of Palestinians are highly educated. 

My mother’s hard work paid off, as a result, my brothers and I all have Ph.Ds and we have all taught in universities. One of my brothers holds a bachelor’s degree, is an engineer, an artist and has a Ph.D in educational technology. My other brother earned his Ph.D in biomedical engineering. As for myself, I graduated from Ohio State University with one bachelor’s degree, two masters and a Ph.D in Arabic Literature. 

I decided to go towards the teaching route. I moved to New Jersey in 2012 and began teaching Arabic and Arabic Literature at Rutgers University. 

Why are you voting? What are the issues you care most about?

I’m voting because I feel it is important that our presence as Arab Americans be known. If our presence is unknown, the candidates are not going to cater to us. When we prove we are a strong voting power, we are going to have candidates come speak to us. They will start prioritizing our issues. 

We are Americans, we pay taxes, we volunteer just like all other Americans do and we have a right to be recognized within the system. And the first step in doing that is through voting. 

When voting for a candidate, I pay great attention to the candidate’s stance on public education funding. Public education is very important to me, everyone must have access to quality public education regardless of their background. My belief in public education is a main reason to why I chose to teach in state universities. Recently, a lot of the research education funding was cut. Part of what made America great was the innovation, research and academia of the United States’ educational system. People from all over the world would come here to do research and unfortunately, we are losing that. Just look at what’s happening right now with all this COVID-19 mess. We need the top researchers in medicine, we need the top educators in science. As a society, we can’t push this science debate to the side and only focus on business and the stock market. I lean towards the Democratic party because historically they prioritized education, but I consider myself having progressive views on issues. 

I have always voted. Ever since I turned 18, I have voted in every presidential election. When you are in your late teens and early twenties, your political orientation is hazy. You don’t know whether you are a Republican or Democrat. That’s where I was. I didn’t have any firm directions, so I decided to volunteer in political campaigns and to experience being part of the process. I did an internship for a Republican Senator in Ohio; my job was to reply to constituents via mail. After a few years, I realized I was leaning more towards the Democrats. I registered as a Democrat and began volunteering for the Bill Clinton campaign. I also volunteered for the first Obama campaign in 2008. Obama to us was hope, we were optimistic about his candidacy. He was the first African American president and that title within itself motivated me to contribute and help. I went to their office on campus, I just walked in and I told them I would like to volunteer for the campaign. They welcomed me and gave me things to do and I was happy to do it.

In your opinion, what are the challenges that face the Arab American community in the US? 

A challenge facing the younger generation is getting discouraged about not being embraced or welcomed in American society. I think young Arab Muslims feel out of place, as if they don’t fit in. And that is a result of many reasons, one of them is foreign policy, and how Arabs and Muslims have been treated in the US.  In recent years, there have been numerous attacks on Muslims and Arabs. That’s why young Muslims feel that no matter what they do, all candidates are against them. 

What would you tell people from your community who believe their votes won’t make a difference?

There is no immigrant group in America that gained their rights by just sitting on the side. All marginalized groups worked hard to gain their rights in this country. We can’t just sit back and say ‘ we are not part of this’. No, we are part of this and we need to feel part of the political system, not just be regarded as outsiders.

Historically in America, all immigrant groups in every period in US history were marginalized at one point. The best example to that would be the Irish immigrant community. The Irish were marginalized, and it wasn’t until they started going towards the electoral process and began participating in politics that things changed for them. If you want change, you need to participate more. And you can participate through voting. 

Many people don’t vote because they feel none of parties represent them. I would tell them: you don’t need to vote Democrat or Republican – there are other choices. If you want to make the change, start voting Independent, start voting for other candidates. If many people vote Independent, we won’t keep on having a two-party system. Some Arab Americans are struggling because we believe both the Democrats and Republicans don’t care about our issues. If we are dissatisfied with both parties, we need to change the system from within through voting and bringing in a third party. 

In one of the past presidential elections, after casting my vote I began speaking with a group of older women who just finished voting. These women told me they voted independent, I immediately thought ‘Why did they waste their vote? The independents have no chance, why did they vote for them?’ I didn’t understand why they did that, but now I do. If I can vote for a third candidate to come in and change the system, then I would gladly contribute for something  of that nature to happen. 

And that is exactly what I’m planning to do this year. I know some people might find my vote controversial, but this is the first time I feel neither candidates represent me. The only way I can voice my opinion on that is through voting. 

For the first time, I’m personally voting Independent. I am taking a radical stance that I have never done before, and I made this decision after I heard the Biden campaign’s attacks on Linda Sarsour. I don’t feel he deserves my vote, and I will make sure not to vote for him. I hope many Palestinians realize that their votes shouldn’t be taken for granted. 

I know many Arab Americans who are voting for Biden just to get Trump out, but I am done voting for the ‘lesser of two evils’ candidate. 

My best advice to people who don’t vote: if you don’t feel either party or either candidate is aligned with you, you don’t need to vote for them, but regardless you still need to go vote. Go vote for a third party. Let’s get this 5 percent for a third candidate to come in.

Parting words for all educators in your industry/career path on voting.

I would tell all educators across this country: whoever is in office affects us directly. For our field to flourish, America needs to continue to be a place of free thought, innovation and research. The shift in education is dangerous and we need to preserve the core values of education that this country was built upon. We need to also remember that academia is not a company; our students shouldn’t be treated as consumers or customers. Also, tell your students to go vote. Give them extra credit, let them show you their stickers or send them reminder emails. Do whatever you need to do to encourage them to go vote.

Vivian Khalaf’s interview

Keenan Kassar’s interview

Check out Arab America’s blog here!