Meet the Newest Arab American Running for Congress
By: Kameron Dreher/Arab America Contributing Writer
Born in San Diego, California to a Mexican mother and Palestinian father both of whom emigrated to the States, Ammar Campa-Najjar, 28, has announced his candidacy for Congress in California’s 50th district. He identifies himself to the public as a proud Arab American.
Referring to his political opponent as a hunter and himself as a gatherer, Campa-Najjar has continuously proven that should he win the candidacy, he will stand for the rights of the people as one of the first Arab Americans elected to Congress.
Campa Najjar’s father was originally from Jaffa, Palestine where he spent the majority of his childhood. He also lived in Egypt, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern countries before immigrating to attend college on a student visa in the U.S.
As a child, Campa Najjar, his mother, and father moved to Gaza, not realizing that the reverberations of living in war-torn Gaza would affect him for the years to come and make him more appreciative of life in America.Photo: Ammar pictured with his father.
After moving back to America, September 11th soon followed, along with persecution that mirrored what he experienced as a Palestinian in Gaza.
“Obviously living in a war-torn part of the world gives you an appreciation for more peaceful life in the United States. You learn not to take it for granted. It really shaped my political outlook too because I have seen some real inequity having lived in Gaza, and some real disparity and it makes me grateful for the opportunity we have in this country to be involved politically and try to fight for change.”
Although Ammar identifies as Catholic, like his mom, Ammar gives great reverence to his Muslim upbringing and the contributions of the Muslim world.
“Long before the world of darkness, the Muslim world lit the world by pioneering medicine, technology, and architecture. Among many other contributions, they revived Greek democracy from the dark ages. Islam is the precursor to the founding values of America.
He views the ancient Islamic world as mutually exclusive to American values, and in their purest form, they are complimentary. Ammar honors his parents and his father’s faith and the history of the culture and its influence on society. According to him, Arab culture has played a critical role in his life. It has given him the appreciation of family values and the tight-knit of its members, something very prominent in Arab culture.
Ammar spoke of the joy that he experienced by the family coming together, celebrating various gatherings and festivals. He says that the talkative nature of the culture has given him an advantage in life; he’s able to communicate, not only with similar cultures but a tapestry of them.
Ammar explained: “We’re a very talkative and engaged community; we are not individualistic like other communities…It has given me a very panoramic view of the world.”
His Arab upbringing has contributed to his demeanor; one that is warm and open towards people along with work ethic and the ability to navigate the difficulties of life, the journey of most Arab Americans. He stated that being an Arab American has presented challenges to him but also it has created a multitude of opportunities.
Should he win the election and become in Congress, he will work to get more Arab Americans to be politically aware, involved, active, opinionated, voiceful, and creators of a positive image of Arabs and Arab Americans through community education and enlightenment.
Campa-Najjar also states that “If we begin to dispel the myth that Arab Americans are all terrorists, I think we could begin to normalize the community and not just paint it with a broad brush. Arab Americans are not just an asset but also beneficiaries of national security. The only way to overcome ignorance is to band together and find common values of people.”
Although he is not the first Arab American to run for Congress, he takes pride in knowing he is the first to run during the Trump era. “I hope people don’t just look at me as the Arab American candidate or congressman because we’re first and foremost Americans who are proud of our heritage. The point is to show people how we are in every single way American.”
Campa-Najjar hopes that people will look at him for honoring his ancestry and heritage and also a person who proved that Arab Americans are proud Americans. He stresses that this campaign is not just about him, but all of us and that we are an unstoppable force in the face of adversity, greed, and corruption.
“We must bend the arch of history and we cannot do it individually, we must do it together.” He ends with: “I could be one of the many mortal hands that put my hand on the arch of history and bent it towards justice.”
This is what he hopes to be remembered by.