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Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib visits Fullerton

posted on: Dec 2, 2019

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib visits Fullerton



Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress, visited Fullerton on Nov. 23 at the Maverick Theater to speak with college students and local community members.

The Arab American Civic Council hosted the intimate Q&A session between the congresswoman and students from local universities, encouraging Arab American students in particular to become politically involved.

“My reasoning to bring her here is to have her communicate directly with all students, mainly Arab American students because they feel disempowered, they feel like they can’t voice their opinions or their votes or opinions don’t matter. I wanted to make sure that they can have that discussion,” said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, executive director of the council.

Johanna Mustafa, a community figure in Orange County, said Arab Americans tend to be politically inactive for good reasons.

“People are afraid to be politically active, especially when they come from an Arab or Muslim background because we are often under attack,” Mustafa said. “Providing safe spaces for community to come together, especially when we’re bringing elected officials who actually represent us in Congress, I feel like that’s really important.

Having Tlaib visit Fullerton allowed people to ask more questions and encouraged those who would usually be shy to ask tougher questions in a safe space, Mustafa said.

Tlaib connected to the Fullerton community by first laying out the story of her childhood roots as the oldest daughter of 14 children in Detroit, which she says shaped much of who she is today. She also spoke about how it took seven different people for her to run for office in Michigan.

“It was finally the last person that said, ‘You know, Rashida, people like us never think about running for office and that’s the problem,’” Tlaib said. “Especially people of color, women, we tend to seek out permission to run for office.”

Though Tlaib is representative of Michigan and not a California district, Al-Dabbagh said he felt that it was important for students to have a discussion with her and feel empowered enough to contact their own members of Congress.

“We heard her encouraging that when she told one of the audience members to contact Katie Porter directly and speak to her about his concerns. And that’s what we are trying to encourage,” Al-Dabbagh said.

Students and local community members raised several questions, ranging from gerrymandering and Facebook advertisements to wealth taxes and current democratic candidates running for president.

Tlaib encouraged the community to work together to face large issues that can affect them.

“When I think about access to clean water in most of my schools in Detroit, I think of the West Bank, the occupied areas. And so much of the times that I see oppression of my black brothers and sisters, I see what happens to my cousins under occupation,” Tlaib said. “Don’t wait until it’s us.”

Andrew Levy, Cal State Fullerton student and president of the College Democrats of CSUF, attended the event to ask the congresswoman about conflicts about Israel, the treatment of Palestinians and “Medicare for All.”

“It’s extremely important for us to hear what she has to say and what her plans are for the future of the party. As you know, the party is changing right now, we’re getting a lot more progressive Democrats, which is in my opinion, great,” Levy said.

Kareem Youssef, a UCLA student and community organizer based in Los Angeles, said that he is glad to have someone like her in Congress.

“I’m looking forward to the next election cycle for more Congress people to bring in. More people like her, I think, will strengthen this country’s pursuit toward justice,” said Youssef.

Tlaib encouraged young Arab Americans to run for office many who she said don’t have a seat at the table around the issues that matter to Arab Americans.

“Sometimes we don’t feel like we’re being heard or seen,” Tlaib said. “People like us when we run for office, we finally feel like we can actually have input on issues that impact us.”

Hosam Elattar contributed to this article.