Monday, October 10, 2011

Identity

I was asked a couple of months back to speak about life in the Middle East and being an Arab. While I agreed to it, I had no idea what to say. You see, there were points in my life when I decided to not identify myself as an Arab and tried my best to distant myself from that part of my identity.

Being an Arab wasn't always easy and sometimes it was painful. After living 12 years in the Middle East my family moved to the South, to a tiny town in Louisiana. I was a peculiar person and people knew that. I spoke Queen's English and was far from the typical blonde haired girl. When people would ask me where I was from and I would tell them I had just moved from Jordan they would get this confused look on their face and say "Oh you are an A-Rab?" And not only was I an "A-rab" but I was also a Mormon. Oh heaven help me.

I remember coming home one day and asking my mom what a Sand N*&#* meant. With a horrified look on her face she wanted to know where I had heard that. When she explained it was a racial slur used for Arabs, I was hurt. I had done nothing to be called that. So began the journey of me slowly pushing my Arab identity away.

Then 9/11 happened and I became more bitter. When I first heard of the attacks, I hoped that an Arab was not involved. When I found out that was the case, I was angry. All of a sudden all Arabs were horrible people.

So I went off to college and changed my major 5 times. I finally settled on Middle Eastern Studies/ Arabic. It just felt right and I was finally once again embracing my Arab Identity. I had Arab friends and went to get togethers. I began to remember the things that I loved so much about Arabs.

While I was in NYC, I had the chance to go to Gotham Comedy Club and see the Arab-American Comedy Festival. It was the first time in a long time for me to be surrounded by a large amount of Arabs. I am pretty sure there were a total of 5 white people and my husband was one of them.


I could not stop laughing, it was the best 2 hours I have spent in a long time. We saw Aron Kader (who happens to have a Mormon mother and an Arab father and is adorable), Said Durrah, and Dean Obeidallah, just to name a few. They joked about having large families, our obsession with food, and how the clash of Arab/American culture can be hilarious. It made me home sick for the Middle East and I suddenly wanted to hang out with Arabs nonstop.

When I finally spoke about being an Arab, I was excited and I shared so many fond memories. I told them how Arabs love their families and have huge families, I have 11 aunts and uncles and a whole slew of cousins. If you ever visit, they will have a massive feast prepared for you and it will be the best food that you have ever eaten. They love to have parties just for the heck of it and are constantly dancing and singing. They will also give you the clothes off their backs, even if they are as poor as dirt.

I'm an Arab and I am in love with that fact. Now I just need to find an Arab community to hang out with here in Seattle. Any one have any suggestions? Maybe the dudes at Mr. Gyro can direct me to the right path.

8 Grass Lovers:

Little Red said...

I love this post. I'm way jealous of your unique background. And Aron is the son of my dad's buddy Omar. We grew up alongside the Kaders. How neat.

ixoj said...

I'm really glad you're half Arab. And you should indeed be proud of it!

Myrna said...

Loved this post, Layla. Love you just the way you are. Loved hanging out with the Arabic club at BYU back when Josie and I (and a lot of the Arabs on campus) were taking Hindi. Funnest dances ever! :o)

Mammodouy's Stories said...

I love you, Layla. This is a great post.
I am so sorry you somehow had to grow away from your culture.
I love the Arabic culture so much... We have many Arab friends from many countries. We feel so much warmth and truthfulness when we are around them. So good to enjoy in our egotistic and sometimes "heartless" Western culture.
So happy you are getting your identity back, my young Arab friend.

Deanna said...

I love this post! My dad had a similar experience. He came to the US when he was 15 from Cuba. He felt so much pressure to be American that he shunned his Cuban heritage. I grew somewhat estranged from Cuban culture but, I longed to really be Cuban. I loved Spanish, and Cuban food and of course, dancing Salsa :) It's vital to understand where you've come from to understand who you really are and what you're capable of. I think you are awesome!

Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, I wish I could help!! I understand the deep need to be with people who are "like." (At at least "like" whatever you think you are at the moment! There are times i feel much more comfortable surrounded by black hair and Chinese dialects than people who share my own ethnicity. haha) I honestly would like to help you find your tribe...but I need some education. haha. What countries would an Arab hail from? Only Jordan?

Nancy said...

I loved this post, too! Perhaps you had to lose your identity in order to find it. :)

Alison said...

Love this post. Sometimes it's hard to claim who you are, especially when people think that they get it but don't really.