Executive director, Arab American Association of New York
When Linda Sarsour was born in 1980, a song called “Linda” was a big hit among Arab speakers, including her parents.
She was her family’s first U.S.-born child, and her parents wanted to give her a name that was common both among Palestinians and the family’s new neighbors— and Linda fit the bill.
“So while they felt it was a beautiful song, it was also a name that was easier for non-Arabs and non- Muslims to pronounce, and it was going to be easier for me to kind of make it in the world,” Sarsour said.
Connecting her Muslim beliefs and Arab background with broader society has also become her life’s work.
Her organization provides social services to Arabs and Muslims, from adult education to immigration services, as well as advocating for the community. It’s not an easy job, with Muslims facing right-wing opposition, hate crimes, police surveillance and Congressional hearings scrutinizing their community.
“I think that while we as an institution in our local area have made a lot of strides and accomplishments and made new friendships, in general I think the Muslim community is living in one of the most hostile environments they’ve ever experienced,” she said.
How did you get your start?
I really wanted to be a high school English teacher. I started at the Arab American Association 10 years ago, immediately after 9/11, as a volunteer. A relative and founder said they needed me, since I spoke English and Arabic, to come and help them out. I saw a lot of things that I didn’t know were happening in my community. I felt like I must have been really sheltered by my family. That was an eye-opening experience.
On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt?
I think that I would consider myself to be, in my local area and in New York, and maybe even in the country, I’m trailblazing for a lot of young women in our community. Unfortunately, there is a lack of visible woman leadership in our community.
What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you?
“Be careful.” That’s the worst advice anybody could ever give. If we were all careful in this world, the world would be a lot worse than it is right now.
Tags: 9/11, Arab, Arab American Association of New York, brooklyn, Congressional hearing, executive-director, Government, hate crime, hijab, Islam, Linda Sarsour, mosque, Muslim, New York, New York City, Non-Profit, not for profit, Palestinian, politics, sunset park, surveillance, volunteer
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