Emerge USA Interviews Jesse Sbaih, American Muslim Congressional Candidate
With all the attention on the presidential race this year, you may miss the fact that some very important Congressional races are happening as well. For example, in Las Vegas Nevada Democrats are hoping to take Nevada's 3rd Congressional District and their front-runner is Arab American Attorney Jessie Sbaih. Emerge USA’s Communications Coordinator Baura Zia recently spoke with Mr. Sbaih about his campaign.
Mr. Sbaih, please tell us about your background.
Twenty-nine years ago, at the age of 11, my family and I arrived in the United States from Jordan in search of the American Dream. When I came to America, I could not speak a word of English. As a schoolboy, I had an English-Arabic dictionary in my hand at all times and forced myself to quickly learn the language, adapt to a new environment, and seek the success that my family wished for me.
These were not easy times. My family struggled mightily when they first came to the United States. They had no connections in the country and no money. Yet I found the spirit to rise to the occasion. While my classmates played ball and socialized with friends, I, a 12-year-old boy, stood in the back of an Italian restaurant scrubbing dishes to help his family make ends meet.
I kept working hard. I went on to excel in high school, college, and law school always graduating near the top of my class. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from University of Miami in Florida, graduating cum laude. I went to law school at Thomas Jefferson School of Law where I received a scholarship and graduated cum laude. After law school, I was selected to clerk for Nevada's Supreme Court Vice-Chief Justice, Cliff Young.
I am a father, a husband, a son, and a lawyer. I credit my parents with making the difficult sacrifice that gave me the opportunity to pursue the American Dream, my beautiful wife Dr. Sameera Sbaih who pushed me to continue to work hard and "shoot for the stars," and my three adorable kids who inspire me to hope for a better future. As a lawyer, I advocate each day for those who have been wronged and oppressed.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
I understand the challenges that hardworking people in this country face and it is my mission to fight for ordinary people. I never forget who I am, where I came from, and how overbearing our difficulties may sometimes seem. I was but a boy who only had one thing going for him: I believed that I could achieve anything with hard work, discipline, and belief. I want to make sure that our kids have the same opportunity to succeed, get ahead, and give back to the community.
What issues are most important to you and how do you plan on bringing change to those areas?
I am a progressive champion of college affordability, higher wages, growth in infrastructure and green energy jobs, equal pay for women, equal rights for all, and healthcare as a fundamental human right. As the greatest country in the world with the most resources, there is no reason why we are not putting the well-being of our citizens first and foremost. We have to invest in our people, not wars. We have to support Main Street, not Wall Street. We have to look out for the common good, not for the good of the privileged few.
Does that mean a minimum wage and income inequality are on your agenda?
We need to increase the minimum wage to $15/hr in order to allow people to make ends meet and stop corporate welfare that costs taxpayers billions of dollars. In America, 1% of the population has equal wealth to the remaining 99%. Such disparity has severely diminished the middle class and will continue to keep our economy stagnant.
What is your position on America taking in refugees?
I fully and unconditionally believe that everyone is created equal regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or the amount of money in their bank account. We are all created of flesh and blood and no one has the right to think and/or act in the manner that demeans, undermines, and/or mistreats another human. In that regard, we - as the greatest country in the world - must do everything we can to help refugees in their time of profound need. Helping others in time of need is an American tradition that is deeply rooted in our values and we must not turn our back on those facing imminent death.
What are your thoughts on the rise of Muslim hate speech?
The rise of injustice and bigotry is troubling and concerning, and it is not just against Muslims. The inflammatory rhetoric directed towards Muslims is not only wrong, it is undeserved. We American Muslims are part of the very fabric of America. We are soldiers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, business people, and everything else in between, Per capita, we make a profound contribution to America each and every day and we are one of the most productive minority groups in the country. We must combat racism and bigotry by speaking out loudly about how proud we are to be American Muslims, how much we love America, and how much we contribute to the safety, security, and prosperity of this great nation.
What have you noticed by being on the campaign trail this election cycle?
This election cycle has been fascinating to observe and be a part of. Clearly, people have awakened to the fact that establishment politics has deprived them of alternate political voices, both good and bad, and are no longer willing to accept the establishment endorsed candidate.
Why is this year's election a historic one?
As far as my race, my election to Congress will be historic because I will be the first Muslim immigrant and the first Muslim/Arab to ever serve in the United States Congress.
What can American Muslims do to have their policy voices heard?
For one thing they can join organizations like Emerge USA which do a great job of mobilizing and educating voters. American Muslims must make their voices heard by voting, running for office, and by giving back to the country that has given us so much. Indeed, if we do not vote and we don't run for office, we will have no voice. Without a voice, dangerous rhetoric will be spewed against us and we will have no recourse to combat it. As a result, we will become marginalized members of society. Therefore, it is essential that we work hard to get more American Muslims involved in the political process.