As the child of refugees who fled Lebanon’s civil war during the 1980s for the safety and political stability of America, Diana Youssef Faraj learned from an early age to cherish democracy. Her father had been politically active in his homeland, and landed in prison for a time as a result. So he made certain his daughter didn’t take her rights for granted.
“I was raised to be very politically aware, very socially aware,” says Faraj, who was born and raised in Chicago, but has called Dearborn Heights home for more than a decade. At 28, she describes herself as a “career student” who has worked a series of lowing jobs, from waitress to paralegal, as she plugged away at college.
“My parents found privileges here in America they didn’t have in Lebanon, and they made me very aware of that. They always stressed that voting is a way to help look out for you community, and to try and gain an equal footing in this country.”
The importance of those lessons in civic engagement passed down from her parents, and her determination to uphold them, helps explain her intense commitment to voting. It also provides some insight as to why she became so distraught when she showed up at the polls twice in 2016 only to be told both times that she wasn’t eligible to vote.
“During the August primary, when I went to my regular polling location to vote, they told me I wasn’t registered, that I wasn’t in the system,” Faraj recalls. “I thought maybe I’d made a mistake and didn’t re-register when I updated my driver’s license.”
She was given a provisional ballot and a voter registration form, which she filled out and turned in on the spot. Which is why Faraj was so shocked and dismayed when told again she still wasn’t registered when she showed up to vote in November’s general election to help select the country’s next president.
“As woman, as a Muslim, as an Arab America, it was already the most difficult election in my lifetime,” Faraj says. “And then they say I’m not registered to vote – again.”
Her dismay jumped off the charts when told she’d been removed from the rolls because she’s sent a letter to the clerk asking to be removed. Even if she’d known that was even possible, that thought of doing so was unfathomable.
“At that point,” she says, “I became irate.”
Her distress grew even worse when told that, according to the records, she hadn’t voted since 2006.
“It was the most horrible feeling ever,” she says. “I started crying, and saying this is ridiculous. I vote in every election.”
Of particular concern to her was what others would think if that misinformation was ever provided to others.