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An Arab American in the voting booth
Shirin Zarqa-Lederman
by Shirin Zarqa-Lederman
March 9th, 2016 (No comments)
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Growing up Arab in America colors the lens of my worldview. Regardless of where your “Arab in America” journey began - the ghetto, the burbs, or farm country - we all seem to share a common, possibly even intrinsic, obligation to protect our ancestry and share our culture. Doing so validates our experiences, corrects that too easily accessible misinformation, and celebrates our contribution to American history and the American identity. That is the shadow that walks into the voting booth with me ensuring that my vote is relevant not only to my America but my Arab. So what is relevant to the Arab in America?

The Arab American Institute (AAI) put together a report addressing that particular question. The report, titled "Arab American Voters 2014: Their Identity and Political Concerns," reveals “jobs and the economy… the most important issue to a majority of Arab Americans.” According to Gallup Polls, the economy is also of major concern to 39% of all Americans. It's turns out we're not as different as we think.

In addition to the economy, AAI also revealed that in this post-911 era discrimination is a main concern to Arabs in America as well. The report emphasized the growing discriminatory practices noting that:

43% of Arab Americans have experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity or country of origin and 41% are concerned about it happening in the future.

Those numbers really knock the wind out of the Arab American dream.

Of course, there is then foreign policy. The Arab American Voters report also indicated that international policies, specifically the ongoing Apartheid in Palestine, were also a factor influencing Arabs in America at the voting booth.

Those are the relevant issues that concern us Arab Americans. Unfortunately, it seems we have little faith in our political party system and its ability to create equality in wealth, opportunity, and a shift on Middle East policy. After reflecting on the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns, their candidates and the debates this weekend, it’s not hard to understand the sentiment.

Not all hope is lost, though. My silver lining comes in the form of another Gallup Poll, which confirmed Democrats are more favorable of Palestinian statehood:

“The two political parties have substantively different views, with 58% of Democrats supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, compared with 26% of Republicans.”

That narrowed my pool of potential candidates, reducing it to Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.

The beauty of growing up American today is that we have an abundance of tools to gather information and sort through it all.  That might sound daunting. Not to worry! There’s an app for that!

Okay, its not actually an app (though If one did exist that would not surprise me), it’s a website. Rather than sit here and reiterate everything that you’ve probably already heard about the candidates from their campaigns, allow me to introduce you to bernievshillary.org

The website asks you several policy questions based on what issues you indicate are most important to you.  So, after choosing “economic policy, income inequality, civil liberties and discrimination, and foreign policy,” I was given a set of ten queries.  After I answered each question, the site generated the candidates’ current positions, as well as any previous positions.  By the end, I was shown a percentage of how the candidates aligned with my position on the issues. I was able to determine what is important to my America and my Arab. So, what happened? Let’s just say I #FeelTheBern 100%!

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* Shirin Zarqa-Lederman was raised in NJ by her Palestinian Muslim parents and later married her Russian Jewish husband. Together they have five interethnic children who experience the traditional customs of both cultures with their extended interethnic relatives. Shirin is also Licensed Professional Counselor, focusing on Child & Adolescent Psychology, and has written her own children’s picture book series, "The Trotters of Tweeville," which is focused on demonstrating kindness to children. The series is available wherever books are sold.

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