Wednesday August 01, 2012
Linda Mansour - Inspiring Arab Americans to Get Involved
By Sara Jawhari
2012 Summer Intern
Linda Mansour was born into a life of politics.
While her mother was in labor at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC, Mansour’s father, a lab tech known for his skill with the needle, was called in to draw blood from President Eisenhower, and missed the birth of his daughter.
“My father is a US Army veteran and I was raised by parents who were very much proud Americans but always had one foot here, one foot there,” said Mansour. By ‘there,’ she is referring to her family’s native country of Palestine, which they would visit almost every year to spend time with relatives.
The realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict became personal when Mansour’s cousin was imprisoned by Israeli police at age 15. “It had a huge impact on me and awakened me to the Palestinian experience. I vowed I was going to be part of the solution to the issue, so I went into law school with the motivation of freeing Palestine, or at least playing a role.”
A University of Toledo College of Law graduate at just age 22, Mansour held positions both domestically and abroad, working as a legislative and legal assistant in Ohio before spending two years in Paris working as a contract administrator and manager. Mansour then accepted a position in Abu Dhabi as an in-house associate for Sidley & Austin, the Chicago-based law firm President Obama once worked for. She established her own law firm and has been offering legal services in areas including immigration, divorce, contracts, and real estate for more than three decades.
Meanwhile, Mansour took part in various Palestinian human rights organizations, leading and participating in fact-finding missions to Palestine and putting together reports to bring back to the US. The events of September 11, 2001 unfortunately erased all momentum Mansour had going with the reports.
“That was a transformative time for me and many others. Muslims in this country no longer were the ‘invisibles,’” Mansour stated. “It was clear we needed to be more involved in US domestic politics. I was involved prior to 9/11 but that event caused me to be more intentional in my commitment.”
Mansour was involved in various cultural, civil, religious, educational, and women’s groups but not so much in the domestic political realm. “I associated with politicians, but I never really sought political office or any such thing. It became clear that ethnic minorities have become part of the fabric of this country in many ways. Those involved were the ones making a difference in and for their communities. It was just as important for us to be involved in issues such as education, housing, and economic development in the US especially in such a pivotal time.”
Mansour immersed herself in national and local civic and service organizations, having served as a board member of the American-Arab Discrimination Committee and currently serving on the board of ACCESS, an organization dedicated to empowering and enabling Arab Americans to lead informed and fulfilling lives. She was a long-time supporter of the Arab American Institute before becoming a member of its National Policy Council, a position she still holds today. She is also involved in an organization called PROPEL in Toledo that helps mentor and guide local Arab American youth in college both professionally and academically.
In 2009, Mansour was appointed as a trustee to the University of Toledo, where she serves as vice chair of academic affairs and sits on the external affairs committee. She was appointed by the Ohio Democratic Party as a state delegate at the last Democratic National Convention and was asked to attend again this year.
“It would be less than honest if I didn’t say I have some disappointments in Obama’s stance during his presidency,” said Mansour. “Yet, this country is a two-party system within which we need to work at this time. There will never be an individual who can stand for everything we want, believe, and represent.” The disappointments garnered personal hesitations about accepting the invitation the second time around, but Mansour stressed the importance of being present and involved in every opportunity possible.
“When it comes to foreign policy issues, there are disappointments in the areas that directly impact Arab Americans. But then one also remembers Obama was the first president to mention ‘Muslim’ in the same line as ‘Christian’ and ‘Jew’ when referring to members of our citizenry. I don’t know that this would have happened had there not been Muslims involved in our government and politics.”
She predicts that this year’s focus at the convention will be on jobs and infrastructure, but hopes that there will be acknowledgment of the people in the Middle East who have been committed in the Arab revolutions and hope to hear of
“our commitment to better this world by choosing the right partners in the future and focusing on the principles we stand for - democracy, freedom - and wanting it for everyone.”
On the topic of Arab Americans’ hesitation in being involved in American politics for fear of backlash, Mansour points out that one of the main reasons why people immigrate to the States is to escape what was in their home countries. “The response is usually ‘We want to focus on family, on ourselves’ and I agree, if you don’t take care of your own home you can’t really contribute outside. But, really taking care of your family means more than just focusing on the people in your home. Their future and success in this country depends on us contributing to the society in which they live.”
Mansour says that in order for Arab Americans to benefit from society, they need to be a bigger part of the American cultural fabric. “In order for us to be understood we must break bread and share allowing for our neighbors to know us. Some have fears of getting involved, but it’s a sacrifice for a better future for our families and community as a whole. There's a lot of misunderstanding and as long as we shy away from being involved, those misunderstandings will only be permeated.”
Contributing, Mansour says, means more than just voting for individuals who stand for what you stand for. Contributing also means providing financial support, volunteering at events, speaking at engagements, and being involved in whatever issues are important to you. “Your involvement is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.”
At a time when Arabs are increasingly ostracized within their communities across the states, Mansour reminds us that one’s heritage needs to be celebrated. “While I don’t wear it on my sleeve everyone knows that I am an American of Arab descent and I'm proud of it. On the other hand when I go to the Middle East I'm thought of as an American and that is what I am. American. Born and raised.”
“I am fortunate to have roots in the Middle East and have lived there as well as Europe, US and the Middle East. Along with my fluency in Arabic and French, living abroad has taught me that people want the same things no matter where they are in the world. We want security for our children, productive lives, health, comfort, and peace of mind,” she says. “Whether I am an Arab American, Chinese American, or a European American, I want the same thing as the person next door. The main issue is to get the person next door to realize this.”
With much pessimism and disappointment going into the next election season, Mansour says she finds hope in Arab American youth. “I have such high hope in the generation after me. I just hope that we have built a strong foundation they can work from,” she says.
“Sometimes we need to lay the seeds and step back and allow for others to continue.”blog comments powered by Disqus