I grew up here in Utah, the son of a single mother with three children. As an immigrant to this country, all she wanted was for her kids to have a better life and opportunities.
She grew up in Egypt. As a religious minority, she watched her opportunities, her freedom, and eventually her safety become threatened. She was 17 when she came to this country with her mother. Her grandmother’s parents were survivors of the Armenian genocide and had fled to Egypt. I never knew my grandmother, but I wonder what she thought when she came to America, and what she would think of it now. Would she see it as a shining city on hill, a welcoming country of opportunity for all? Or would she see it as a place all too much like Egypt in the 60s or Turkey in the early 1900s, where groups of people are scapegoated and mistreated because of their beliefs, heritage, and ethnicity?
My mom and grandmother had limited English language skills, and my grandma was mostly blind. They relied on their faith and ethnic communities to help them thrive in New York City. Their community welcomed them, like it had for millions of immigrants before, helping them find a home, jobs, and a path to education.
My life is possible because of those courageous women and because of that community support. Our ability to learn from our differences and find our shared values has always been the best part of America. Our problems shouldn’t be abstract issues to be yelled about by politicians. They are real for us, for our friends, family, and neighbors.
Growing up in Utah, I was never interested in politics. I attended the University of Utah, and like many students searching for meaning and expression, I studied poetry and literature. I graduated in 2008 and became interested, for the first time, in politics. I identified with Barack Obama as a tall kid with a funny name and a multicultural background. I became involved in his campaign and started to feel myself as part of something larger. I realized that my differences and hardships were not what separated me from the American story, but what made me a part of it. I learned that my narrative was my own to write and no one else’s to define.
I also learned to organize and to amplify my voice through my community. I recruited, trained, and coordinated thousands of volunteers. I saw firsthand the untapped power that only grows when community members realize the strength of their voices when they come together. Watching this transition for many from powerlessness to power helped me understand the struggles and victories, if even small, of so many in our history. In 2012 I met President Obama. I knew that his story had changed my life and I wanted so much to pay that forward.
I hope that through my efforts in the legislature I can remind individuals and organizations of their power to create the meaningful change they seek and be part of the values that brought my parents and so many other immigrants to this country. I know that getting progressive legislation passed in Utah can be a challenge. I worked on the grassroots campaign to pass Pre-K legislation in 2014, and I know how to bring a community together to fight for—and win—impactful legislation.
This year, in this election, we have a choice: to live our values, to keep families in our community from being torn apart by deportation, to make sure all children have a shot at a bright future. We can choose to build a community that finds common sense solutions to environmental problems that affect every one of us.
We have faced dark political times in this country. And every time we do, we find a way to come together. We answer the call.