Rashida Tlaib, Activist, Attorney, and Congresswoman (D-MI)
After the 9/11 attacks, Rashida Tlaib and her family faced heightened scrutiny and suspicion for being Muslim. The Detroit native felt “fearful” and then frustrated, which fueled her to take political action on behalf of underrepresented communities. Now she’s become the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress.
Activist, Attorney, and Congresswoman (D-MI)
Post 9/11, Rashida Tlaib faced scrutiny and suspicion because of her religion. Now she has become the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress.
Rashida Tlaib, Activist, Attorney, and Congresswoman (D-MI)
Why She’s a MAKER: If you question Rashida Tlaib’s integrity, she answers with an act of defiance. When her family was targeted for being Muslim after 9/11, Tlaib doubled down on her activism for underrepresented communities in Detroit, home to the largest Arab-American population in the country. When asked for her birth certificate by the chairman of the Michigan Legislature, she announced her run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Now Tlaib has become the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress.
Freedom Fighter: As a little girl growing up in Detroit, Tlaib always heard stories of the oppression her grandfather faced while living in Palestine. With the fragility of freedom ingrained in her family roots, Rashida knew her life’s mission was to carry on the fight. “I think my grandfather embedded in me really believing in the freedom to just live. I know it’s corny but I always wanted to free the world.”
Turning Anger into Activism: Following the 9/11 attacks, “I remember my parents’ home being surrounded by gunmen and being interviewed by the FBI for hours,” Tlaib recalls. “It was the first time I felt fearful of my own government, and it really pushed me to be more involved.” Now as she prepares to create real change in government, Tlaib hopes to prove once and for all “I'm not going to be forced out just because I'm Muslim. I'm going to be showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want.”
See Rashida Run: It took seven different people to convince Tlaib to run for office in Michigan. “My colleague said: ‘People like us never think about running for office and that's the problem,’” says Tlaib, who is now paying it forward and recruiting more women to join her ranks. “Every woman I see, if there's a little spark there, I tell her, ‘Have you ever thought about running for office?’” Tlaib says. “They kind of look at you like you're crazy. And six months later, they run.”
RASHIDA TLAIB: I love when a Muslim father comes up to me and says to his daughter, "She is a Muslim." We're constantly looking for permission to be in leadership roles. And we need to shake that out of our young girls, and in the meantime, keep asking women to run.
I grew up in southwest Detroit, born and raised. I am the eldest of 14. I grew up pretty much taking care of them. Even though I would cry every time my mom brought another baby home, I now realize it made me stronger. Both my parents are immigrants born in Palestine. Grew up with those kind of old-school traditional values. Everything was-- your life began after you got married.
And I remember hearing the stories of my grandfather in Palestine being shot 11 times because he wouldn't leave his land, telling me about how he felt so oppressed in his own homeland. I think my grandfather embedded in me really believing in the freedom to just live. So I knew I wanted to do something around activism. I know it's corny, but I always wanted to free the world.
[SOMBER PIANO MUSIC]
I remember my parents' home being surrounded by gunmen all around and being interviewed by the FBI for hours. It was the first time I felt fearful of my own government. And I just felt like nobody cared that this was happening to this family, who are Americans. There was just a heightened fear among the Arab-American community across the country. It really pushed me to be more involved.
I literally laughed out loud and I said, "I would never sell out and run for office." It took seven different people to ask me to run before I was convinced. And it was one of my colleagues. She said, "People like us never think about running for office. And that's the problem." I thought to myself, I'm not going to be forced out just because I'm Muslim. I'm going to be showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want.
Women are very conscientious of the responsibility of being in office. And we also have those insecurities that's embedded in us by society. Every woman I see, if there's a little spark there, I tell her, "Ever thought of running for office?" They kind of look at you like you're crazy. And six months later, they run for office.
RASHIDA TLAIB: I was probably my second year in law school when 9/11 happened. And I was-- I was really terrified of what was going to happen to my husband, who's only a green card holder at the time. I immediately called my brothers and told them to be very careful who you hang out with, telling my sisters, you know, just be real careful out there, and being really afraid of my fellow Americans. It really pushed me to be more involved, and I got really curious and really angry. And I think that combination got me, you know, in front of a number of issues in the city of Detroit.
RASHIDA TLAIB: You're a member of the legislature and you're sitting in committee. And you know, your own chairman says, oh, can I see your birth certificate? After all you were doing was offering an amendment to say, you know, I would like cultural integration programs for our social service agencies.
I'm a product of that. I was born in this country. I'm a product of these services. And he said, well, can I see your birth certificate? And I thought to myself, wow. He can't get rid of me, though. It really bothers him I'm here.
I'm not going to be forced out just because I'm Muslim and because I'm Arab. I'm going to be pushing that line and showing people that if you work hard enough, if you love your community enough, you can do whatever the heck you want. I don't care what anybody says, or what these stereotypes out there about us.
RASHIDA TLAIB: I've been told, oh, Rashida, you're so emotional. And you know, I tell them it's passion. It's because I care. I get really frustrated and angry when I feel like I'm not being heard because I'm a woman. I'm saying to my leadership team this is an important issue to these groups. And they're saying, well let's check into it, as if I need to be double checked.
But they don't do the same thing to my male colleagues in those calls. Those are things that frustrate me. But I'm not going to go anywhere. I'm going to keep fighting it and remind them that, you know, I'm equally a member and should be equally trusted and equally valued in my opinion. Many of them don't even know they're doing it. That's what's even more absurd and scary, is they don't even know they're doing it.