Ahmed was born in Pakistan and moved to the suburbs of Chicago when he was 2 years old. He has lived within the 7th District for almost half of his life, and can think of no other place to call home. Serving his community has always been an ideal he has aspired to, and he believes there is no better time than now to step up to the plate to represent the needs of his neighbors and friends by running for Congress. Growing up, Ahmed’s parents stressed the importance of working hard and giving back to his community. He understood early on the value in helping his neighbors and those in need to ensure his community prospered.
Disclaimer: As a non-profit organization, MALA does not take positions on political issues nor does it endorse political candidates. This article is part of MALA’s effort to strengthen Muslim-American communities through storytelling, and is not an endorsement of Ahmed Salim for political office.
I moved to the United States with my parents and siblings when I was just two years old. Though we had a comfortable life in Pakistan, we made the big move because my parents sought the American Dream—this idea that, by working hard, they could secure better opportunities, better futures, for both themselves and for their children. Shortly after they arrived, my parents became small business owners, working 14 to16 hour days in order to give us the best lives possible.
Although we had a modest upbringing, I distinctly remember going back to Pakistan every summer, and seeing awe in the eyes of my family members as we told them of the life we had built for ourselves back in the US. To them, we were living proof that the American Dream was alive and well. For so many people overseas, going to America was a fantasy, a dream. These visits put into perspective just how blessed my family was, and instilled within me an even greater sense of appreciation for what my parents did for us by coming to America.
Some of my fondest childhood memories come from our annual trips to the Wisconsin Dells. Between the water parks, the shows, and all the junk food that I could eat, it was like heaven on earth. My parents wanted us to have the same experiences as any other American kids. Whatever free time we had was spent together, doing things that would put smiles on our faces while also immersing us further into American culture. Libraries, museums, baseball games—we did it all—our mom would often take us while our dad worked late.
My father raised his children believing that, in America, we could be anything we wanted to be so long as we put in the effort and worked hard. After all, he was living proof of the American Dream. This message has continued to influence me throughout the course of my life; it has given me purpose and determination, confidence and hope. It was my father who inspired me to dedicate my life to serving others, and to helping them realize their own American Dreams.
When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work on a Senatorial campaign. During that time, I traveled across the state with the candidate, meeting voters and listening to their concerns. Upon graduating, I followed my father’s entrepreneurial footsteps, and went on to open a small business of my own. However, after a few years, I realized that I wanted to have an even greater impact on the country that had become my family’s home; so I decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in law. After completing law school, I was fortunate enough to help run a winning bid for County Board. That experience taught me a great deal about politics at both a County and District level. I learned firsthand the many issues affecting small businesses, the detrimental effect of decreased budgets, and the role of unemployment pay in our economy. Much of what I did, I learned on the job—and it was this practical knowledge, coupled with what I had learned in the classroom, that allowed me to play a meaningful role in our victory. This experience, along with a lifelong desire to become part of the solution to the problems faced by the American people, inspired me to transform my dreams of public service into a reality.
Shortly thereafter, I got married and moved to California so that my wife would have the opportunity to pursue her dreams. While there, I became a Field Representative for Congressman Jerry McNerney, and served as the point of contact in the office for all matters related to the Affordable Care Act. I was responsible for keeping a pulse on the district, so I was continuously made aware of the many issues faced by those who lived there. Working for Congressman McNerney was part of achieving my American Dream. Being a part of the American political system showed me that I was capable of helping to shape our beautiful country. My parents were so proud, and supported my career; hoping that, one day, another set of parents would be just as happy for their own son after he received his first Congressional job while working for me.
Following my work with the Congressman, I found various ways to continue to help my community. One such way was by serving on the board of our county’s library and literacy foundation. During this time, I helped start a coalition that successfully managed to get a tax ballot measure passed to improve funding for our county’s library system. Ever since college, when I created a tutoring program in the Cabrini Green, I have felt that giving people access to education was of the utmost importance—through education, people are empowered, and given the tools needed to succeed. Libraries serve as a resource for people of all ages and backgrounds, and I believe that a strong library system results in a strong community.
My many experiences throughout the various stages of my life have taught me that I should never be afraid to just roll up my sleeves and tackle problems head on. With the current political climate, I cannot think of a better reason to do just that. It is for this reason that I have decided to run for Congress in the 7th District of Illinois. From the time that I was very young, my parents first instilled in me the idea that, in America, anything is possible through hard work and determination. Over the course of my life, they have been proven right time and time again. I firmly believe that, as Congressman, I can serve my community—I can return to them the voice that is their birthright as citizens of this great nation. I am confident that, by working together, we can all live the American Dream.