One America Voices: Areesa Somani

The One America Movement is excited to continue our One America Voices initiative. Once a month, we will publish short interviews with Americans from all walks of life in an effort to highlight our uniquely American stories.

Share on social media using the hashtag: #oneamericavoices.

Areesa Somani
Washington, D.C.
Program Associate, One America Movement

Q: Your parents are immigrants from East Africa. And you are a triplet? Tell me about that.

A: Growing up with such a multifaceted identity is what informed my understanding of America. It made me really appreciate the unyielding faith of my parents—without which my siblings and I would not have limitless opportunities and the freedom to choose our paths. It’s especially incredible now, as three adults, seeing the way that my parents’ sacrifice manifested itself in our current paths. My sister loves helping others, so she just entered pharmacy school. My brother is a problem solver at heart and works as a technology consultant in Seattle. I took the public service route. And the only reason we pursued these dreams in the first place is because of the life that my parents made possible for us, as immigrants to this country. My parents struggled so that my siblings and I could live with unequivocal freedom of choice.

Q: You worked at the Obama White House. How do you relate that experience to the trans partisan work you do with One America?

A:  I worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence in the White House. That meant that I was reading letters from Americans from every corner of the country—liberal, conservative and non-partisan Americans who wrote to President Obama about their lives. Every letter was different, but most centered around telling the president about their struggles, profound loss in their families, or concern about political division. What struck me most about this experience was that reading those stories challenged my own preconceptions of what America is and who Americans are. I read a lot of stories from folks like me who were first-generation Americans or Muslim-American. But I also read letters from Americans who led entirely lives different from mine. And in reading these letters side by side, I saw that we as Americans have hopes and fears dependent on our life circumstances, which can differ drastically, but aspects of our lives often transcend identity. There is a way that we confront challenges or hold on to hope that is universally American. I really appreciated, for example, that a conservative priest from Indiana and a first-generation immigrant in New York would write about their dreams for their children’s futures with equal passion and hope. Reading those stories and developing a more complex and compassionate understanding of Americans is what touched me the most about my White House experience. I’ll never forget it.

Q: You led an anti-hate speech campaign at your alma mater, Seattle University. Tell me about that.

A: The campaign started because as a Muslim-American living on a college campus in the social media age, I encountered anti-Muslim hate speech that was met with silence from a lot of my friends and fellow students on campus who wanted to intervene, but did not know how. It really got me thinking about if we could use incidences of hate to spark larger conversations about how to respond to hate as community members. Ultimately I realized that we could use the topic of hate speech as a launch pad to build coalitions across divides and engage folks of all identities in a discussion about the best practices to create community change.

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