10 Arab Americans Urging you to Vote: Hanin Sukayri
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 Hanin Sukayri’s interview, and one of a series of ten articles (one for each interview).
You can find your state and register to vote here.
Hanin Sukayri, 25, Corporate Social Responsibility
Tell me about your background, career and immigration story.
I am a Jordanian Arab American Muslim woman with a global upbringing. I am currently working as a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Fellow for a pharmaceutical company while completing my master’s in communication and media from Rutgers University.
Every time I’m asked to speak a bit about my background, I tend to ask the person ‘how much time do you have?’ But the cool thing about that is I end up finding commonalities with whoever I am speaking to.
My story starts with my father’s humble beginnings in Jordan. His hard work ethic allowed him to earn a scholarship and then begin his early career in Germany before deciding to pursue his master’s in political science in North America. I was born in the US while my father was completing his master’s degree. It was through those experiences that education became a main pillar in our family. My father’s career as a diplomat and a UN official allowed us to be raised in 3 continents throughout our lives. Personally, I have never lived in a country for more than five years. I have lived in China, Australia, Jordan and Switzerland. As with many families who have a similar upbringing, I was fortunate enough to be educated in private, international schools.
Because of my global background, I was always raised with the mindset that I was different, but not in an isolating sense. I was always taught that no matter where I go and whatever I do, I was still an Arab Muslim woman connected to her Jordanian ethics and morals. A main challenge faced by all immigrant families is trying to maintain their spoken mother tongue languages with their children. My parents were aware of that challenge and they heavily focused on teaching us Arabic. One of my earliest memories since I was 8 or 9 years old was of my dad sitting me down and helping me memorize different Quranic scriptures. His efforts were not lost on me and these subtle incidents helped me become the proud Arab American Muslim woman I am today. My mother also played a huge role in teaching us the power of humility. Before marrying my father, she was an English teacher for a few years; after having us she was greatly involved with philanthropic initiatives. All of my upbringing centers around that, we were raised with a mentality that no matter how fortunate we were, we had to go back to the roots and put ourselves in check. The more I grow, the more I think about making a difference and giving back to those less fortunate than me.
I graduated high school from Switzerland, and as difficult as it was for my father, he gave me a choice to choose my own academic path. I decided to come back to the States and have been here ever since. I completed my bachelor’s degree in communication and media from Rutgers University. After graduating, I worked a few years in the human resources field before deciding to return to Rutgers for my masters. I am currently working as Corporate Social Responsibility fellow while completing my master’s degree.
Why are you voting? What are the issues you care most about?
Apart from voting being my constitutional right, I vote because I believe I owe it to my people. I owe it as an American citizen, and I owe it to the younger generation. There is a gruesome underrepresentation of Arab American voices in the US. Many would say ‘well you’re just a number’ but here is my take on this – when you multiply that number it stops being one number, you start to become an influence, that is why I am voting.
When casting my vote, I look into the candidate’s policies, their status and their history, regardless of what some might say. To me, the history of the candidate plays a major role in what they may do in the future, it shows me where they came from and gives me a better idea of what inspired them to become an elected official. Running for office is a privilege and a grave responsibility to those who voted for you.
With regards to issues, foreign policy is at the top of my list. As an Arab American, one of the biggest questions I find myself thinking about during any election season is – how will this elected official affect home and my region? Once you think about the Middle East as a whole and historically remember what the region has gone through, you begin to realize the fundamental role we, as Arab Americans, should play when it comes to foreign policy.
In your opinion, what are the challenges that face the Arab/Muslim community in the US?
Being an Arab American is maybe one of the biggest inner self conflicts I ever had to deal with. When you are here, you are too Jordanian for the Americans, and when you are there you are too American for the Jordanians. I think the beauty of it all is in finding the balance between here and there.
I will say it again, there is a gruesome underrepresentation of Arab American voices everywhere in America. It is incredibly sad for me to say this, but one of the only Arab American voices I can think of is DJ Khaled! I have taken it upon myself to inform those around me about our region. I feel it is my duty as an Arab American to do that. You cannot solely depend on the media to represent us. The media is not going to give you a clear and accurate perception of what is going on. Being an Arab in America means you are looked down upon, fetishized and targeted at the same time. You deal with microaggressions on a daily basis. For example, people in the US love to eat hummus, but as soon as you begin talking to them about Palestine, they suddenly grow very uncomfortable.
Because of my upbringing, I was always different, I was never fearful of being different- that is my identity. I’m comfortable to say it loud and proud and I try to represent and educate about my region as much as I possibly can. Voting is one of the minimal responsibilities that I have as an Arab American, and I will uphold that responsibility.
What would you tell people from your community who believe their votes won’t make a difference?
Firstly, many people in our community have that kind of mentality because they feel defeated. However, they must remember that when we talk about voting, we are not just saying go and check a box. We are talking about you being part of a bigger decision; we are talking about you making history.
When you think about the implications of everything going on right now, especially with how 2020 has been going so far, you start to worry about how this year will affect the younger generation. In the future, they will question whether you could have changed the outcomes of certain situations. How will you explain to them that you were given an opportunity to fulfill your constitutional right, you were given an opportunity to make a difference, but you didn’t act on it?
In all honestly, I would tell people from our community, ‘Go vote. It is your responsibility and your duty as an Arab American to vote’.
Parting words for all individuals in your industry/career path on voting.
Once you think about how the current administration responded to the pandemic, it highly affected our industry because our economy deteriorated. People have suddenly become less giving, and I would say in that sense, it did take a toll on our industry. However, as a CSR professional, everything you are doing is driven out of passion to help people and wanting to make a difference. You put your blood, sweat and tears in making sure the different nonprofits are being helped and you go above and beyond to fulfill your nonprofit partners’ needs. Voting is the minimal action you can take as a socially responsible person for your voice to be heard and to be a part of a decision related to the future of this country. So, go vote.
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