It was time to leave Lebanon. In 1984, nearly 10 years into a violent and disruptive civil war that killed 120,000 people, my parents made the brave decision to flee the unrest for the chance of creating a better life in the United States—for themselves and the children they hoped to have. They left a country they loved, one where their families and friends would remain, to move to a new one where they had no relatives or connections. They knew they could not succeed in a country full of turmoil and government corruption.
So they started over. After arriving in America, both worked hard in their fields of medicine and were able to provide for their two children. As a result, my brother and I had the opportunity to not only succeed in this country but also be of service. I'm now running to represent Texas's Third Congressional District in the House of Representatives. If I win, I'll be the first Arab American woman that Texas sends to Congress. My dad has campaigned with me and marvels at the scene on the trail. When he escaped civil war with my mom, he never imagined his daughter could ever run for political office. “This would only happen in America,” he would tell me.
Long ago Beirut, Lebanon's capital, was deemed the Paris of the Middle East, not only because of its history as a French colony, but also due to the fun-loving nature of the people, the high-end fashion, and the gourmet cuisine. The Lebanese people are some of the most sophisticated, educated, and kind people I have ever met. In so many ways they celebrate multiculturalism. Walking through Zaitunay Bay in Beirut, I have often heard women greeting friends with three kisses on the cheek saying, “Hi, keefik, ca va?” This trilingual greeting is common among the Lebanese, many of whom speak at least three languages, often in one sentence.
Even now the Lebanese people still embrace life to the fullest—not just when things are good, but when life gets hard too. In October 2019, Lebanese citizens took to the streets to protest government failures and corruption, but the massive gatherings didn't look like the usual demonstrations. Many of the protests took on an atmosphere akin to an outdoor nightclub, fully equipped with DJs and dancing. Alongside picket signs, protesters waved glow sticks. It was an amazing show of the Lebanese spirit.
Unfortunately, the warm and fun-loving nature of the Lebanese people masks a tumultuous history. Lebanon has often been used as a battleground for other countries’ wars, and too many of its leaders have been corrupt. It is a tragic set of circumstances for all and fills me with great sadness.
The explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020, could not have come at a worse time for Lebanon. In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon was still reeling from a financial crisis that started in October 2019, when Lebanese citizens, along with millions of people across the world, took to the streets to demand the resignation of the Lebanese prime minister and his government.
Since the explosion I have spent many hours checking on family and friends in Beirut, responding to WhatsApp messages from loved ones whose homes were destroyed and seeing horrifying pictures and videos of streets I have visited many times. Many places that were a part of my life were destroyed. Many people I care about have had their lives turned upside down.
This disaster has reminded me that the Lebanon my parents fell in love in and subsequently left 36 years ago is one where the government has turned a blind eye to its people. And the United States did nothing to help. This is not the Lebanon that my parents ever wanted me to see. My parents wanted me to always think of Lebanon as a place with fun, loving memories. A place where you could go to the beach and ski on the same day. They did not want my memories of their home country to mimic their memories during the violent civil war they fled.
Every time I stepped off the airplane at Beirut-Rafic Hariri Airport, I truly felt it was my second home. The Lebanese people have an innate ability to make you feel as though you are family, no matter what your religion or background is. I have been so fortunate to visit Lebanon several times, and the Lebanon I have experienced is not the same Lebanon my parents left during the tumultuous civil war. What I do know is that the Lebanese people are resilient, and I am grateful to have inherited that resilience.
My background as an American of Lebanese ancestry is not some meaningless extra notch on my belt. It is so important on several levels—from the small things, like eating tabbouleh at Thanksgiving, to the big things, like my core beliefs and values. My Lebanese American heritage has taught me about caring for community and preserving the American dream for future generations. I want every single American to have the opportunity to succeed here just like my parents did. I am eager to be a strong voice and advocate not just for my constituents in their daily struggles but for their hopes and dreams. I intend to represent them proudly and successfully, but always with an eye toward their brighter futures.
The Texas Third Congressional District is a northern suburb of Dallas that has benefitted from a massive population boom over the past decade. With this boom came an increased diversification with many immigrant and first-generation families. Rated as the most educated congressional district in the entire country that is still represented by a Republican, my district is clearly ready for change and for a representative who will represent the values, community-building values, that were instilled in me at such a young age.
I am running for U.S. Congress to uphold two legacies of great people. I'm running to uphold the legacy of the American people and the Lebanese people. I stand on the shoulders of two great cultures that are being blindsided and abused by the powers that be. When I speak to voters, I often say, "We cannot change Washington without changing who we send there." This is true now more than ever. Whether we are talking about the United States or Lebanon, we know that to enact the change we seek, diverse, committed, and ethical leadership matters.
Lulu Seikaly, 34, is the Democratic nominee for Congress in Texas’s Third District. If elected in November, she will be the first Arab American Congresswoman from Texas.
Originally Appeared on Glamour