Where did you grow up? If you live and work somewhere different now, what drew you there?
I was born in downtown Los Angeles in May 1977, but a month later, my family moved to northern Orange County, on the border of LA County. My childhood was spent between Buena Park, La Mirada, and Fullerton, with time spent playing at Huntington Beach.
How long have you been at NP? What has most surprised you about the path of your career?
I have been at NP for 18 years this June. What has surprised me the most is that I’ve been able to combine so many of my passions into the career I am lucky enough to have today. My passion for transportation and rethinking of our dependence on the car comes from my grandmother, who came here in the 1970s. She didn't speak English. She learned English from watching The Price Is Right and The Young and the Restless. Where my grandmother came from, most women didn’t drive a car because they lived in a town where you didn’t actually need a car. There was a church. There was your little village. There was your town. All your family lived in the same apartment building. It’s pretty easy to live your life. In the US, she learned how to travel by bus, so I grew up on the bus. My grandmother took us around everywhere, on her own two feet and on a bus, and that stayed with me for my entire life.
Tell us a bit about your heritage. Where is your family from originally? What does your Arab American heritage mean to you?
My parents came here from Jordan in the 1960s and ’70s, but I have roots in other countries, too.
I grew up during the 1980s. Growing up as an Arab American in the 1980s was tough. There is no need to repeat the specifics of the difficulties. Trust me—it was often terrible. And then the First Gulf War happened in the very early 1990s, which made the 1990s tough, too. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to terms with the overly negative connotations of where my family is from, and how what happens there affects what I experience here. I can also say I’ve become proud of my Arab American heritage. No matter how bad the news is, I focus on the positives—not just the delicious/now-trendy food and historical contributions to math, science, and music, but Arab culture’s emphasis on family, respect for elders, and fierce generosity.
Something else that helped me embrace my heritage was my deep dive into the complex history and politics of the Middle East. Understanding history gives me hope, because I know numerous other regions of the world experienced tumultuous and near-apocalyptic brinks before finally achieving lasting peace and stability.
In the end, I know that I have no control over what happens “over there” or “over here.” I know who I am, how I was raised, and how I will raise my children (which is true of 99.9999999999% of all Arab Americans), and that is to be proud and kind Americans with Middle Eastern roots who will always support acceptance, diversity, and love for all of mankind. When California passed a resolution in 2018 honoring April as Arab American History Month, it meant a lot to me and to other Arab Americans and our children. Having this recognized month to show pride instead of fear and dread will help my kids know that they are accepted and should be proud of their Arab American heritage — and equally proud to be Californians.
How has your Arab American background affected your life in the United States and as a lawyer?
I cannot put into words how tough it was, but I’m not focusing on the negative. I want to be a positive member of the Arab American community, and that’s why I became involved with AALASC. I want to work with other diverse organizations and be an ambassador of dialogue to make people of all backgrounds heard and accepted. I will also continue to work on refugee and asylum cases through International Refugee Assistance Project to help Arabs and other Middle Easterners who helped American soldiers and were promised a new life in the United States.
What are the most significant challenges and opportunities for Arab American attorneys in Southern California?
The No. 1 challenge I see facing Arab American attorneys is our lack of a box to check that truly identifies who we are and where we come from. Most Arab American attorneys must mark White or Caucasian on Census Bureau requests, which doesn’t give the same status as other disadvantaged groups. We have to mark Other and then fill in Middle Eastern or Arab. We are working on creating a MENA category, which is inclusive of people from Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds, but we are still nearly seven years from the next census.
In other ways, we are gaining more recognition. More states and the federal government are recognizing Arab American Heritage Month, which just concluded in April, and are recognizing us as a distinct group. This will help make us more cohesive and provide the “stickiness” we need to work together as a group for our interests and to help other disadvantaged groups.
How is AALASC able to support its members in navigating this environment?
AALASC is a terrific organization with a long history of bringing diverse groups of Arab Americans together throughout Southern California. There is a significant Arab population in our region, and we are helping to make sure we are heard and seen in a positive light. People of Arab heritage are often portrayed as terrorists in the media, but we don’t have to accept that. LA is a hub for media of all kinds, and we can work to make sure our perspectives are considered and our voices are heard.
For example, our organization presented an award recently to the general counsel of Disney to acknowledge the great work Disney is doing to advance diversity in general and to portray Arab Americans and other Middle Easterners accurately and with sensitivity. We hope that other media outlets will take note.
You’ve been practicing for almost 20 years. When you speak to more junior Arab American attorneys, what differences do you notice between their early-career experiences and yours?
I am seeing more and more young Arab attorneys in BigLaw, and that itself is a huge accomplishment for our community. I have spoken to many young Arab attorneys who are impressed that I have been in BigLaw for 20 years. They say that they mostly see us as personal injury or solo practitioners. There is truth to this—it’s part of our culture of entrepreneurship and personal business ownership. But those younger attorneys tell me that they want to see more Arab and Middle Eastern attorneys leading practices and firms across the country. I am doing what I can.
What is something (other than the law) you are great at doing?
Podcasting. I love it. I am a frequent co-host on the Good Is In The Details podcast, and a guest on many others. I also like to act, write science fiction, and master the art of public speaking.
What is your top priority for your year as AALASC president?
Working with other disadvantaged groups to make sure our voices are heard. I will also make sure that I share my own story, so other young attorneys know that if they face discrimination, they hear from people like me who have been through similar experiences and will help them get to the other side of hate, which is acceptance and advancement.
What is one thing people in our industry can do to be supportive of efforts to increase representation of Arab Americans in the law?
Nothing special. Just keep giving us a chance. Give us a seat at the table and keep your minds open.