10 Arab Americans Urging you to Vote: Sofian Hassan
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 Sofian Hassan’s interview, and one of a series of ten articles (one for each interview).
You can find your state and register to vote here.
Sofian Hassan, 75, Insurance
Tell me about your background, career and immigration story.
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine in 1945, but I was raised in the town of Beitunia. I completed my secondary schooling in Palestine and immediately worked for a few years in the Gulf region. I immigrated to the US in 1966, during the Vietnam War. Emotions about America’s involvement in the war were high and the general climate was political in nature.
I started my career in insurance and financial planning a few years after my arrival to the US. With a combination of corporate life in Chicago and my own private brokerages, I currently have over 47 years of experience in the insurance and financial planning industry.
I immigrated to the US when I was 21 years old. It was through hard work and dedication that I was able to stand on my own two feet and provide my family with a comfortable life. I earned two bachelor degrees and a masters degree from US universities. America offered me an opportunity to achieve my aspirations and I consider myself a perfect representative of the American Dream.
My connection to my homeland, Palestine, remained strong. I watched the news on a daily basis and kept track of all developments happening in the Middle East. I was also very aware about domestic affairs in the US and would have open conversations with my children on current issues.
Why are you voting? What are the issues you care most about?
I am an American. It is my right to vote and I will exercise my right fully. I became an American citizen in 1973 and I have voted in almost every local, state and federal election ever since. I don’t pay attention to the candidate’s party; I look at the individual. Are the person’s values aligned with mine? What is this person’s view on improving the economy? Is this person willing to listen to our community’s asks? If the answer is yes, they win my vote regardless of their party.
A main issue I am passionate about is improving history and cultural education in our secondary schools. Ever since I moved here, I noticed that the average American is unaware about many civilizations around the world. During my corporate days, I would engage in numerous conversations with my co-workers about other countries. I especially enjoyed telling them about my region, its history and its rich culture. I shared with them how Arab scholars and scientists contributed to the world, specifically in the fields of science and astronomy. They were always surprised by what I told them.
When voting, I pay attention to the candidate’s stance on secondary education. I believe in enhancing our history and cultural studies curriculum in schools.
In your opinion, what are the challenges that face the Arab/Muslim community in the US?
A main issue that I personally think we as an immigrant community still struggle with is identity. We always view ourselves as outsiders to the general American community. Many members of my generation and some of the younger generation developed very strong ties with their countries of origin in the Middle East. These individuals are still very connected with their motherlands to the extent where they become indifferent to the things happening here.
There is nothing wrong with honoring your roots and preserving your culture, but America is our home now. We are Americans as much as we are Arabs. You cannot ask us to choose one or the other. We must deeply care about all the issues happening here too.
Once we begin to view ourselves as an essential fabric of American society, once we begin to be equally proud of being both American and Arab, it’s then and only then will we overcome this challenge.
What would you tell people from your community who believe their votes won’t make a difference?
I would tell them that every vote counts. The last presidential election proved how the number of votes is crucial in determining the winner. Don’t let the ‘My one vote won’t make a difference’ mentality prevent you from realizing how powerful your votes are.
I also want to add that people who usually feel their votes won’t matter also believe they have been marginalized from US politics. And to be honest I see their point of view.
Arab Americans are self-isolated when it came to meaningful engagement within American politics. Simultaneously, previous US administrations did not put any effort into outreaching to our communities. However, the situation is gradually improving from both ends of the spectrum. I am a huge fan of being an active agent of change. If you want active participation in US politics, then there is always room for that to happen. You can volunteer with political campaigns, you can attend events and network, you can provide financial support to candidates who represent your values, etc. There are always many opportunities for you to be seen and heard.
Arab Americans are an important demographic in America. We are talented, hardworking people who are successful in many fields. Let us start acting like it.
Parting words for all insurance professionals on voting.
That is a great question; many people within the insurance field are not concerned with politics. But I am here to tell them it’s quite the opposite. Contrary to popular belief, our industry is heavily intertwined with politics. Whoever is serving in State offices, Congress, Senate or the Oval Office have either direct or indirect influence on social security benefits and property tax. Most of the work we do revolves around these two components. For us, it makes a difference who is in office.
Go vote. If it is not for foreign policy, education or inclusivity- then it’s for the economy and your job.
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