Q&A: Aisha Wahab on Making History, Running for Congress, Moving Beyond Identity Politics

Aisha Wahab made history last year when she became one of the nation’s first Afghan-American elected officials, winning a seat on the Hayward City Council. Its a distinction she shares with fellow Afghani Safiya Wazir, who, in the same election, won a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

But 31-year-old Wahab—whose progressive politics and bold ambitions have drawn comparisons to AOC—is already setting her sights on higher office. Earlier this spring, she announced her run for Rep. Eric Swalwell’s 15th Congressional District seat.

Wahab’s personal journey has been marked in turn by trauma and triumph. Her parents fled the Afghan-Soviet War for refuge in New York, but their untimely death left Wahab and her sister in the foster care system. Eventually, however, they were adopted by an Afghan-American couple from Fremont.

We caught up with Wahab ahead of her upcoming appearance at Dinner with a Dem: Running for Office as a Woman of Color in the Bay Area, which takes place from 6:30 to 8:30pm Monday at the Santa Clara County Democratic Party HQ, 2901 Moorpark Ave., San Jose. Here’s transcript of that interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.

What is your vision for America? 

I want to restore the checks and balances of the United States. My goal in Congress is to reinvest in the American dream, which encompasses economic independence, safety, security and opportunity. Those are the things that will expand the middle class that has shrunk incredibly.

I believe college should be completely free. I paid off one of my student loans this past year. It has stunted my growth and my potential in this country far more significantly than most people understand. It pushed me back from purchasing a home, starting my own business and gaining economic independence.

I do not believe that corporations should own single-family homes or condos. That is one of the big problems we see in the Bay Area. American should get priority preference in housing. There is so much cash offers from different countries and corporations. We as an average American cannot compete. It’s impossible. We are struggling to make that down payment.

Our immigration crisis is a blowback from our foreign policies. Our engagement in the Middle East has caused the Arab migration to Europe. We have to deal with the blowback─all the migrants coming from Central America─that’s our backyard, and we should be taking care of that.

We need to conduct background checks on immigrants arriving in the United States. State security is important, but the Democrats are avoiding these questions. We need to be holistic and honest in our approach.

You experienced racism and Islamophobia during your run for City Council. What was it like going up against that kind of sentiment? 

Being an Afghan-American in the United States, and since 9/11, it’s pretty much nothing new except for the amount of overt racism that I had to deal with. When we were walking door to door, we had volunteers that were asked inappropriate questions. We were told that we were not Americans. But I was born in this country and I will die in the country. I am an American through and through.

At the same time, I am not going to hide how proud I am of my heritage, The Afghan culture and history is rich and beautiful but at the same time, misunderstood. The media depicts it as conservative, close-minded and anti-women, you name it, but it’s not.

What did you do before getting involved in public service? 

I was an environmental consultant and also worked in sales for a consulting firm. And to be completely frank, I felt like I did everything you are supposed to do in life where you checked all the boxes: you go to school, get a degree and find a job.

I was just going through the motions, holding onto work that didn’t really mean anything to me besides the paycheck.

That was until I was laid off during the Great Recession. I realized I had to do something I was passionate about. And since I have always done community service work, I began to get more involved as I had more free time, serving as a public health commissioner at the Afghan Coalition.

What motivated you to make that leap of running for elected office? 

First, my family home was foreclosed during the Great Recession─so housing has always been a big issue for me because the big banks were bailed out. They were supported twice as they kept the foreclosures on short sale.

Second, my dad got really ill at the time. He was diagnosed with diabetes before the Affordable Care Act and he just had a kidney transplant.

And during my time in the Afghan Coalition, I met immigrants from a community that has seen nothing but war. I was surprised to see clients with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and domestic violence.

I was exposed to all these issues and realized that I could help─I remain calm in chaotic situations. I always ask: this is what happened, what do we do now to fix it?

To what extent do you think your identity as an Afghan-American has propelled your political success?

It’s not so much my identity but my message that resonates with people.

I have lived with every demographic, from African Americans and Latinos to whites, I can genuinely tell you that everyone wants the same thing─an opportunity to succeed and to build a family and their wealth.

In the Bay Area, people are so diverse that being an Afghan American will not make or break your case. People need to get past identity politics.

Several of the democratic presidential candidates spoke in Spanish during the debate─that is trying to play to identity politics. Some people feel that their message should only resonate with certain segments of the population. Now, if you take a look at what’s happening today in this country, you are getting far more polarizing viewpoints.

17 Comments

  1. > I can genuinely tell you that everyone wants the same thing─an opportunity to succeed and to build a family and their wealth.

    . . .

    > People need to get past identity politics.

    What?!

    Opportunity?

    Family values?

    Build wealth?

    Get past identity politics?

    Probably a covert Trumpist.

    Wait until Michele Dauber hears about this! Aisha will have her woman card yanked so fast it will make her head spin.

  2. I actually follow Aisha and I think this is taken out of context. She has consistently stated that the goals and values are what ties people together, not necessarily identity. Also, she is right when people do want success and she does state that opportunities need to be created, checks and balances in those that abuse the system and much more. Aisha is very liberal, very connected to a wide variety of communities and at the same time very pragmatic as to why and how. She stands for Medicare4All, Student Debt Elimination, and much more. She has fought for residents to get priority preference, more affordable housing, rent control, extra protections for seniors, veterans, and disabled.
    I don’t know how you all are taking the fact that she is saying identity is an issue but not the thing that makes or breaks you.

    • > I don’t know how you all are taking the fact that she is saying identity is an issue but not the thing that makes or breaks you.

      Aisha and/or her handlers, her partisans, and her friendly journalists are constructing a very confused, muddled, and contradictory picture of who she is and what she believes in.

      If she really believes that “People need to get past identity politics”, she’s going about it the wrong way by speaking at ” Dinner with a Dem: Running for Office as a Woman of Color in the Bay Area”.

      Identity politics on steroids,

    • Donald Trump:

      > “I want to restore the checks and balances of the United States. My goal in Congress is to reinvest in the American dream, which encompasses economic independence, safety, security and opportunity. Those are the things that will expand the middle class that has shrunk incredibly.”

      Bernie Sanders:

      > “I believe college should be completely free. I paid off one of my student loans this past year. It has stunted my growth and my potential in this country far more significantly than most people understand. It pushed me back from purchasing a home, starting my own business and gaining economic independence.”

      Karl Marx

      “I do not believe that corporations should own single-family homes or condos. That is one of the big problems we see in the Bay Area.”

      Pat Buchanan/Ann Coulter

      ” American should get priority preference in housing.”

      “We need to conduct background checks on immigrants arriving in the United States. ”

      AND . . .

      A special shout out to Nicholas Chan for an Advocacy Journalism “Leading the Witness” Award:

      > JOURNALIST: “To what extent do you think your identity as an Afghan-American has propelled your political success?”

      > INTERVIEW SUBJECT: “It’s not so much my identity but my message that resonates with people.”

  3. Is this person another #anti-Semite wishing to be part of the Bernie, AOC, Omar, and Tlaib Jewish haters’ club? ENOUGH WITH THE JEWISH HATERS! #kamalaharrisforthepeople

  4. Aisha chica, I have bad news for you. Not even Latinos like AOC. She is one of those Latinos seen as admirers of Castro, Chavez, Maduro. The majority of Latinos dislike these dictators. Google the “Burradas de Maduro.” You will see what Latinos think of this living dictator. Most Latinos also dislike anti-Semites because most of them are Christians. They believe Jesus is the son of The God of Israel. They also believe Jesus is a Jew. If you want to make Latinos your enemies mess up with their beliefs. I have worked with this community for more than 20 years from Brazil to United States. They give a Sh!t about AOC. They like Kamala.

    • > Not even Latinos like AOC. She is one of those Latinos seen as admirers of Castro, Chavez, Maduro. The majority of Latinos dislike these dictators. Google the “Burradas de Maduro.”

      Interesting assertion. It might even be true. I have no first hand knowledge.

      It has always seemed to me that “progressives” and establishment Democrats are extremely presumptuous about what “minorities” think.

      > Most Latinos also dislike anti-Semites because most of them are Christians.

      Again, I have no first hand knowledge. I am aware that the history of Spain was purportedly “anti-Semitic”. Inquisition and all.

      https://youtu.be/LnF1OtP2Svk

      During the Moorish era in Spain, Jews allegedly aligned themselves with the Muslim rulers to oppress Spanish Christians, suggesting residual bad blood between Jews and Christians in Spain.

      I have heard it suggested that an underlying element of Latino ethnic chauvinism (“Chicano”, “la raza”) is antipathy toward “white” people, which in actuality is antipathy toward “Jews”, going back to the Moorish era of Spain.

      It wouldn’t surprise me that Spanish “anti-Semitism” had enduring influence in the New World latino cultures to this day.

      Just speculation on my part. Not something I regularly talk about with my Hispanic friends.

      • Few more facts for you Bubble, most Latinos consider Spain the most racist country in the world. Most Latino Jews live in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. There are the traditional Jews and the Christian Jews. This last one is much lqrger; they appear on the census as Latino/Christian. Latino is not a race but a ethnic group made of many races. Most of them are Christians of different denominations. In Mexico, the three main cities with most direct Jewish descendants are Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey, in that order.

        • > Few more facts for you Bubble, most Latinos consider Spain the most racist country in the world.

          FEXXY:

          Thanks for the exposition. It’s nice to have a source who can speak for most Latinos,

          • I cannot speak for most Latinos, but 20+ years working with a group is a decent time to learn about their general beliefs and views. Culture is an evolving construct and every individual is a multicultural being.

      • There is no bad blood between Christians and Jewish in Latino countries. Christians see the Jews as God’s people. They do not see Jews as the killers of Jesus. Muslims do not believe in the trinity. Christians do not believe there were other prophets after Jesus’ time. For this, the beliefs of these two groups are opposed to one another. Christians believe God will judge his people first (the Jews) and then those saved through Jesus’ grace. Christians believe Jesus made the Jews and Christians a single spiritual body. The scripture talks about God cutting some branches from his tree and adding new branches. The branches cut were from some of the tribes of Israel. The branches added are the Christians. Through the gospel knowledge, there have been Jewish traitors. Numbers 16 is just one example. Latinos believe more in the bible than history. For them, Israel belongs to the Jews and Jesus is a Jew. Jesus is a present not a past. Any one who speaks contrary to this are considered EREJES Y ENDEMONIADOS. Most Latino heroes and heroines were firmed believers of the Christian Faith.

        • > Christians believe God will judge his people first (the Jews) and then those saved through Jesus’ grace.

          How did Christians agree to let God judge the Jews first?

          Who gets judged second, third, fourth, and fifth?

          Where do Democrats get judged?

          • God is not a business man or a negotiator; HE IS A GOD. Read revelation 7. There are no offer and counter offer just a law to be followed. Each person has only one life to achieve salvation. God opens the door to salvation to those he calls. If you answer his call and follow his life to the end…you will be with Jesus…bendición Bubble. Shalom…

  5. It was on the news this week. AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, worships a servant of Nazism, Subhas Chandra Bose. All these people try to hide their anti-semitism beliefs and views, but everything they do and say show hate for the Jews. Tell me who you admire Aisha, and then I will tell you who you are! AOC? No manches!

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