You’d think that this piece would be easy to write. I mean, it’s my life I’m talking about – and I have a plethora of experiences to draw from. But it hasn’t been easy, not in the slightest bit. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, every time I sat down to command myself to write, I could not find the right words, and over and over again I drew blanks. However, that does not mean that my experiences growing up as a Palestinian woman in America holds no place in my thoughts. Not a day goes by where my identity does not play a role in my experiences, my relationships, my thought process, or my decisions.
But, I have realized I have been a coward. I have no problem expressing my identity via academics, or student organizations, or even among my friends. So why hold back now, when all I have is this metaphorical paper and pen? What am I running from, what am I trying to prove and to who?
All I know is, I’m here now, ready to tell you that being Arab and being American is the most challenging aspect of my life.
For starters, I have two countries I call home: the United States and Palestine. And for anyone that knows anything about politics, the United States and Palestine aren’t exactly BFF’s. In fact, the United States is directly complicit in the occupation of Palestine. It’s like being in love with the enemy’s sidekick. Like Batman being in love with Harley Quinn. I have dedicated so much of my life to fighting for the Palestinian cause here in the United States – because I believe that Palestine is my home just as much as the U.S. is – and the United States should be held accountable for its complicity in the occupation of Palestine.
But, is Palestine truly my home? I did not grow up in Palestine. I am constantly questioning whether or not I have a right to call Palestine a home, because it is not me living in occupation. It is emotionally tolling to question myself like this precisely because of the love I have for Palestine and the time I have spent fighting for it. At the same time, however, I enjoy freedoms here in America that my family in Palestine is completely stripped of. The older I get, the more distant my family and I become, and I cannot help but wonder if me being American has anything to do with that.
I have two countries I call home…
I have incredible amounts of love for my culture and for my family, which is why it pains me to think that my family living in Palestine thinks of me differently because I am American. This is a huge issue among Arab Americans that is rarely talked about, but I believe affects us the most emotionally. Sometimes I think I can feel a physical hole in my chest, because no matter how close I keep Palestine in my heart, I fear that my family back home does not keep me close to theirs. Distance is hard, I know that. But being Arab and being American means that there will always be a disconnect between experiences, not just distance. For example, most of my family in Palestine only talks to me when they see a picture of me in a crop top on Facebook (a crop top?! GASP! How could she?). I know it’s out of love, but what hurts is that the more “American” I am, the less they try to genuinely get to know me.
I know I don’t experience this alone. This is hard for Arab Americans because even though there is this painful disconnect, we grow closer to our beautiful culture everyday. It is basically impossible not to fall in love with Arab culture. But this is precisely the most beautiful thing about being both Arab and American, because even though there is this distance between who we are and where we grew up, we do value our culture and traditions. Some even argue that we hold them even better, because that is just how much being Arab means to us.
Think about it – we live in a society that tells us being Arab is a bad thing. We are told we are terrorists, or to “go back to our countries.” Despite the bigotry and hatred, we come together, proud of who we are and where we came from. I thank God everyday that I was born Palestinian; it has given me a love, strength, and family that I cannot imagine a life without.
All of this puts Arab Americans in a bit of a conundrum. To paint the picture more clearly, we are either too Arab for America, or too American for Arab countries. It’s an identity crisis, and that is never easy to address let alone write about. I’ve decided, however, that I am going to put all fears of further distancing me and my family in Palestine aside. I am going to whole-heartedly embrace both my Arab identity and my American identity, because I’m tired of feeling guilty about being one or the other. This is who I am.
I don’t know if my family in Palestine will read this. I don’t know if they will understand me more if they do, or at least try to understand me. But I do hope that this has helped other Arab Americans let their identities shine, despite the crisis we find ourselves in.