When my youngest sister confided in me three years ago that she was considering a run for public office, her babies were 1 and 2 years old. She was a sleep-deprived working mom whose husband also put in long hours as an attorney.
I encouraged her, because I know how much she has to offer the world, but in my heart, I worried about the toll such a campaign might take on her health and family. Rabeea is nearly a decade younger than me, and I have a maternal kind of protectiveness toward her. I also know how she gets when she puts her mind to a goal. She graduated a year early from our competitive high school in Houston. My parents said the sprawling University of Texas campus in Austin would be too much for a 16-year-old graduate, but she went anyway. She worked her way through high school and college and won a merit scholarship to law school.
My sister doesn’t mess around when it comes to reaching the goals she sets for herself. So when she decided to run for district judge in Houston’s Harris County in 2016, we watched her pour her entire heart into the campaign. My parents and siblings stepped up to help with the kids, but really, it was my sister who found a way to spend every waking hour meeting with voters, fundraising, attending events, speaking to groups, continuing to work as a lawyer and still picking up her kids after school nearly every day. She expanded the definition of what constitutes “waking hours.”
I watched in awe.
Where did she get that energy, that drive?
I wanted that win for her more than anything I have ever wanted for myself. She forced a runoff in a heavily contested primary, but ultimately lost in the special election.
I couldn’t bear to think about all those countless hours and sacrifices she had made when the results came in that night. It’s pretty crushing when someone you believe in so strongly loses.
And that’s when my sister showed her mettle.
She decided to run again in 2018 -- this time, against a well-established incumbent.
My father called me soon after she told us, and asked me why she would put herself through such a grind again. Texas wasn’t ready to elect a judge who looked like her, he said, speaking from the experience of an immigrant who faced his own setbacks despite decades of hard work. I wondered if he was right. The political environment had only worsened since her first attempt.
We kept our doubts to ourselves. And if my sister had any, she didn’t indulge them. Instead, she got to work -- winning endorsements, talking to as many people in the third-largest county in the country as humanly possible. Then, a few months before the election, she was in a catastrophic car accident, which she miraculously survived with a few broken bones.
She resumed campaigning even when it hurt to take a full breath because her ribs were still healing.
I couldn’t sleep the night before the midterm elections. Rabeea sent our family a text that night, which said, in part: “Regardless of the result tomorrow night, I’ve won for having the best family a person could only dream of. There’s no way possible I could have gotten to this point without each of you.”
Her older son, now 5, asked her the morning of the election what would happen if she lost.
“It’s OK to lose, so long as you give your best, because we all have to lose sometimes,” she told him.
Her younger son, 4, piped up: “I know Momma’s gonna win.”
The day of the midterms, there was a knock at my door, and my son called out to me that someone had sent me a fruit bouquet. Turns out that my sister, facing the election of her career, to which she had devoted the past three years of her life, had remembered that my short film was premiering that night in St. Louis. She wrote that she was proud of the work I was doing.
When I walked out of the Tivoli theater that night, I saw a message in our family group chat that she had won. More than 630,000 people in Harris County voted for her -- electing her by a margin of over 100,000 votes.
“For me, this is the America that I know, love and will fight for until we get back on track,” she wrote to me.
I tried to think of a moment in my life when I had ever felt more proud, and I realized it had been two years ago, when Rabeea told me that she was going to run again.
I called my parents to congratulate them. They were in shock.
“I can’t believe it,” my father said. “I just can’t believe it.”
The country where he arrived nearly 50 years ago with little money and lots of dreams had just made his daughter a judge.