Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district as a Democrat. She is on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Rep. Tlaib made headlines shortly after she was sworn in on January 3, 2019, by calling for President Trump’s impeachment. spoke at a progressive event hosted by the group MoveOn about what her teenage son said to her after she won the election. He told her, “Mama look, you won. Bullies don’t win.” Rep. Tlaib told the crowd that she had responded, “Baby, they don’t,’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherf****r.”
The video quickly went viral. The following day, Rep. Tlaib took to Twitter to stand by her statement. In separate tweets, she wrote, “This is not just about Donald Trump. This is about all of us. In the face of this constitutional crisis, we must rise” and “I will always speak truth to power. #unapologeticallyMe.”
President Trump criticized Rep. Tlaib’s comment, saying that “using language like that in front of her son” was “disgraceful.”
The moment raised curiosity about Rep. Tlaib’s sons and the rest of her family. She is the daughter of immigrants and one of 14 siblings. In addition to being the first Palestinian-American woman on Capitol Hill, she is also one of two Muslims elected to Congress for the first time. (Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is the other congresswoman).
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Rashida Tlaib Has Two Sons & They Danced in Congress as Their Mother Cast Her Very First Vote on January 3, 2019
Rashida Tlaib has two sons from her first marriage. Older son Adam is 13; he’s the one who told her that “bullies don’t win” after she was elected. Younger son Yousif is 7.
Rashida Tlaib’s sons celebrated their mother’s very first vote in Congress. As she stood to support Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker, the kids also stood and did a dance move called a “dab.” Tlaib raised her hands in the air for a moment with a big smile but didn’t seem to quite catch on to what her sons were doing. Adam also helped his mom with her vote by shouting “Pelosi.” You can watch the full comical moment here.
2. Tlaib’s Parents Are Palestinian Immigrants
Rashida Tlaib is the daughter of immigrants from Palestine. Her mother was born and raised in the small village of Beit ur al-Fauqa. It is located in the northern West Bank, a few miles northwest of Jerusalem.
Her late father, Harbi Elabed, was raised in the east Jerusalem village of Beit Hanina. According to the Associated Press, Tlaib’s grandfather moved to Brazil during the Great Depression, before resettlling in Detroit. Tlaib’s father spent his teenage years in Nicaragua before joining his own father in Detroit at the age of 19, in the late 1960s.
Tlaib explained in an interview in August 2018 that her grandmother was determined that her son marry a woman from back home. “At 27, my grandmother grabbed [my father] by the ear and took him to Palestine and said, ‘You are going to marry a good Arab woman.'” He married Tlaib’s mother, Fatima, in the mid-1970s and brought her to Detroit. Harbi Elabed passed away in December 2017.
Tlaib’s father worked for the Ford Motor Company on the assembly line, according to USA Today. Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press that they family spoke Arabic at home and that English was her second language. She said her father also spoke Spanish, which he picked up during his years living in Nicaragua.
Rep. Tlaib chose to wear a traditional Palestinian dress for her swearing-in ceremony. She told CNN that the decision to wear the “thobe” was monumental for her mother. “Every child of immigrant parents knows what it means when… their biggest hope is that they want us to succeed, but they also don’t want us to lose a part of who we are.”
3. Rashida Tlaib Was Born in Detroit & Has 13 Younger Siblings
Rashida Tlaib was born July 24, 1976, in Detroit. She was the oldest of a very large family; she has 13 younger siblings!
In an interview with the Detroit Metro Times in March of 2014, Tlaib said that she played a large parenting role growing up and that it prepared for for a career in politics.
“You know, I was the third parent growing up, and it did make me a very overly responsible adult. I’m constantly working, and I’ve earned everything that I’ve been able to achieve on my own, and that’s what being the eldest of 14 taught me. … I think every constituent’s issue that I’ve had to deal with for my residents, at some point, I’ve dealt with [through] my brothers and sisters. [Because I’m the eldest] … I am usually the first call they make, especially since both of my parents are immigrants from Palestine. My dad grew up in Nicaragua in his teenage years then immigrated to the United States. … Yeah, now, looking back, it’s been a blessing because it has really prepared me for what I’m doing now.”
4. The Tlaib Family Members Living in the West Bank Celebrated Rashida Tlaib’s Election to Congress
Rashida Tlaib has a lot of relatives still living in the West Bank. The agricultural village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa has fewer than 1,000 people living there. NBC News reported that about one-third of the village’s residents are related to Rep. Tlaib.
Her uncle, Bassam Abdualla Tlaib, told NBC after the election that “this is going to change the American view about Arabs and Muslims.” He expressed that he wants more Americans to see that the majority of Muslims are not jihadists.
He also was quoted by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper: “We’re very proud of her and her achievement, and I hope she’ll serve her community while also bringing the Palestinian story more prominently into the U.S. House of Representatives.” The newspaper reported that Rep. Tlaib last visited Beit Ur al-Fauqa in 2006, but that her mother visits on a more regular basis.
Tlaib’s aunt, Fadwa, told the Associated Press after her niece’s primary victory that she is a role model for other girls in the family. “She hates to see anyone take the rights of others. She supports human rights, women’s rights. She empowered girls in the family.”
5. Rashida Tlaib’s Ex-Husband is From the Same Village in the West Bank as Her Family; The Couple Married in 1998 But Have Since Divorced
Rashida Elabed Tlaib got married when she was 22 years old to Fayez Tlaib. They have since divorced, reportedly in 2015.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Tlaib’s ex-husband was also from Beit Ur al-Fauqa in the West Bank. Her uncle shared that Fayez Tlaib was related to Rashida’s mother, which is why Rep. Tlaib’s married name is the same as her mother’s maiden name.
Rep. Tlaib has repeatedly stated that her now ex-husband was supportive of her political career. But she has refrained from sharing details as to why they split.
Since the election, she has said that her sons will mainly stay in Detroit when she is away in Washington. In an interview with The Daily, the New York Times podcast, Rep. Tlaib said she does not think of herself as a single mother. She praised her ex-husband as a co-parent and described him as a great father to their boys.