by Yasmine Taeb
Last week, the Falls Church News Press ran a deeply distressing letter to the editor that contained xenophobic sentiments about me that, sadly, I’ve been hearing my entire adult life:
“As an immigrant to this country, she is not even familiar with or part of the ‘Old Virginia Way.’
She and her family have no roots here, did not labor with blood, sweat and tears to build our state, nor does she have any political experience or background to effectively and adequately represent Virginia.
All her fervor, passion, rhetoric and ambition are not enough to carry her to a seat in the senate.”
It’s not exactly surprising to see my background as an undocumented immigrant used as a political attack. I’ve been the “other” for most of my life, as a young Muslim woman and as a public advocate for progressive causes. Thankfully, through the Democratic Party, I’ve found a community that sees my experience and my background as an asset–something to be celebrated. I am so fortunate for these voices that have supported me and encouraged me to keep fighting. Thanks to them, I now have over a decade of legislative experience working in national and Virginia politics, and I became the first Muslim woman elected to the DNC.
But now that I’m running for office, that “otherness” is starting to be turned against me again. I’ve been called an “opportunist,” “ambitious,” “carpetbagger,” and things far beyond decent that I won’t repeat here. The outside agitator is an old trope in Virginia history dating back to Reconstruction, when resistance to federal efforts to promote civil rights eventually led to Jim Crow. That it’s being employed today by some as an “otherness” dog whistle is again predictable but very troubling to see.
But mostly, I cannot help but notice these tags aren’t being applied evenly to all of us who have ambition in running for public office. Leaders like Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Gerry Connolly weren’t born and raised in Virginia. Northern Virginia’s own Elizabeth Guzman, Mark Keam, and Kathy Tran are also immigrants like me. But it’s a blessing that they’re all here now and serving as Democrats. My own opponent in my race for State Senate was born and raised in DC, went to college in Maryland, and was a Virginian for a far shorter time than I was when he was first elected in 1975 at the age of 35. We have our disagreements, but we are all equal in wanting to make Virginia our home, and we are all equal in our ambition of wanting to serve in public office.
That’s what makes such attacks so disappointing–it’s hard not to conclude some part of these attacks is grounded in the fact that I am a progressive young woman of color who was born in another country. I really hope everyone involved in this race–no matter who they are supporting–will think deeply about the double standards they may be applying and how it might feed into a cycle of xenophobia, sexism, and racism. Unfortunately, Virginia’s history warrants such precaution.
And let’s be clear, we can all run hard without resorting to these kinds of attacks. Good Democrats can look at the two candidates in this race and come to very different conclusions. I’m not worried about good-faith disagreements on policy, ideas, our records, and our visions for Virginia’s future. Neither of us has a monopoly on those things.
What I worry about–and what I’ve come to genuinely fear–is that once we start falling backwards, it’s going to be hard to stop. We are hard-wired to see differences, to form tribes, and to see the “other” in people. Once we’ve lost the ability to see beyond those things, we lose what motivates me and so many Virginians to be activist Democrats in the first place. Fewer doors get knocked. Donors wonder if the investment is worth it. And the Blue Wave crests way too early. We cannot let this happen in 2019.
Luckily, I’ve worked alongside many of you for years, and I know we can do this. Let’s run hard, let’s compete, let’s be forceful. But let’s also call out the voices who are trying to take us backwards in how we regard those who would come to Virginia, make it their home, and then exercise their constitutional right to run for public office.
I am a proud to be a progressive Democrat, and I’m ready to do my part to make sure we all stay proud as Democrats.