OC Register: Arab American Democrats take stock of political standing

SOURCE: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/arab-593437-american-group.html

Published: Dec. 13, 2013 Updated: 8:12 p.m.
ORANGE – Arab American Democrats of California had its third annual holiday party on Thursday to celebrate the group’s accomplishments in public office this year, and to review areas where members could improve their impact as the 2014 election season approaches.
About 40 people attended. 
Article Tab: Rima Nashashibi, former vice chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, speaks to the crowd at the Arab American Democrats of California annual holiday dinner on Thursday.
Rima Nashashibi, former vice chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, speaks to the crowd at the Arab American Democrats of California annual holiday dinner on Thursday.
While the officials present commended the group’s achievements in public office, they also addressed the unique challenges the group faces and offered solutions based on other immigrant groups’ experiences in politics.
One of the event organizers, Arab American Caucus Southern Vice Chair Rashad Al-Dabbagh, said one of the group’s main challenges is that there is no reliable data that shows how many Arab Americans are Democrats in Orange County.
“Nationwide they tell us more than 70 percent are Democrats, but there is no reliable data on this, even census data” Al-Dabbagh said. “This is something we would like to work on. We are told there are around 100,000 Arabs in Orange County, but I’m sure it is more than that.”
He also said this makes it difficult for public officials to address the “Arab vote” when they run for office.
“That’s a challenge, to make sure the Arab voice matters and the vote matters,” Al-Dabbagh said.
Al-Dabbagh said the event was meant to share examples of Arab American success stories in politics, and explain that voter and political participation is not out of the community’s reach.
The group invited Democratic community leaders, such as Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Henry Vandermeir, to motivate guests about ways they could get involved, either by running for a local office or reaching out to neighbors.
“I think one of the big issues that we have with some of the communities that come from very restricted political countries is they are not used to the democratic process that we have here, and that it is a democratic process,” Vandermeir said.
Rima Nashashibi, who served as vice chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County for 10 years and co-founded Orange County’s Latino-Arab American Advisory Committee, said the concerns of Arab American Democrats are the same as all Democrats, with an emphasis on certain issues.
“The most important thing for the Arab American community in general is immigration and education,” Nashashibi said, namely anti-profiling and access to education and higher education, she said.
Other Arab American elected officials, such as Bell Councilman Ali Saleh and Fontana Councilman Michael Tahan, shared their stories of how they got elected and encouraged audience members to serve in their city offices and communities as a start.
Non-Arab group supporters, such as Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman and State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens, who represents the 58th District, spoke about their support and encouragement for the group.
Overall, Al-Dabbagh said he hoped the event helped raise political awareness of the Arab American community and promoted relationships with the Democrats and their elected officials.
“A lot of people feel their vote doesn’t count or doesn’t matter,” he said. “It is another challenge to change these perceptions…We need to make sure Arab Americans are addressing these issues and working hand-in-hand with elected officials.”
Contact the writer: (714) 796-3543 or kablaza@ocregister.com

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