Aisha Wahab knows what it means to advocate for herself, especially when no one else will. After her father was murdered and her mother died at a young age, she was placed in the foster care system.
At times, she felt alone.
“For kids in the foster care system, every adult around them pretty much failed them,” Wahab told HuffPost. “Hence they’re in the system.”
Wahab considers herself one of the lucky ones after she was adopted by a couple in the Bay Area. Being a foster kid taught her to stand up for herself, she said.
“I truly want people to believe in themselves when no one believes in them,” Wahab told HuffPost. “I genuinely want the majority of people, especially little kids, to know that you’re not alone.”
She tapped into the same perseverance when she decided to run to represent California Senate District 10 against Fremont Mayor Lily Mei. She said she was surrounded by naysayers who claimed she didn’t have a chance. But Wahab won, making her the first Muslim and the first Afghan American elected to the state’s Senate.
Wahab is among dozens of Muslim Americans who made historic gains in local, state and federal races during the 2022 midterms by notching more electoral wins than ever before. More than 80 Muslim American candidates won their seats in over 20 states, according to a has become a cultural hub. Wahab’s win, she said, is also for them.
“I’m very proud of the heritage. I think the culture is wonderful in so many ways. I also know it’s deeply misunderstood, and also portrayed very incorrectly in so many different ways,” said Wahab.
“We’re very proud to be able to bring some joy to people’s lives and give the larger community a win,” she added.
But during her race, Wahab said, her ethnic and religious identity was used against her. People made Islamophobic and racist comments on social media. When she was campaigning and knocking on people’s doors, people told her they’d never vote for an Afghan or a Muslim.
“It was very frustrating to see, especially in the Bay Area,” said Wahab.
Wahab went on to receive endorsements from government officials including California Attorney General Rob Bonta, state Sen. Bob Wieckowski, groups including Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club, and the state’s Democratic Party.
Wahab will now head to Sacramento, where she will be sworn in as a state senator in December. She hopes foster kids will be watching.
“There’s a lot to say & more to come, but I want to take this moment to speak directly to all the kids in #fostercare … our dreams do come true,” she tweeted shortly after her win.
“I was born in this country. I will die in this country and I will continue to serve a country that has been very much a part of my path,” said Wahab. “The whole point of the American dream is to pursue your own dream.”