To Whom Do I Belong?

 

 

I am the daughter of a single mother and a once-absent father.

My mother was born and raised in the farmlands of Slippery Rock, PA, whose claim to fame is their university and odd moniker. My father was born and raised in the fields of Amman, Jordan, populated by ancient ruins and the stories of refugees.

My mother’s family knows the toil of farm life and the joys of a large family and a full house. My father’s family knows the toil of a life in exile, living in a land which struggles to claim them as full citizens, and the joys of solidarity with a movement and resistance to a regime.

My mother’s hair is short, light, and blonde. Her skin is light, and it tans well. Not as tan as Baba’s though. His hair has receded and is streaked with grey, but his skin maintains its year-round, dark olive tone.

I carry the physical traits of both of my parents on my body: Mom’s eyes in shape and Dad’s in color, Dad’s hair in thickness and volume and Mom’s natural highlights.

My curls are looser than the tight-bound coils they once were. My nose is bigger than “average” and it hooks. My English contains a hint of a Southern accent.

I pass as a member of those who call themselves white, even though my body holds characteristics that don’t keep me quite there.

Both of my parents know the loss of family land. My mother’s family lost our farm the summer before I started high school, the farm on which I spent my infancy and toddler-hood, due to lack of finances. My father’s parents left Palestine before the chaos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could deport them.

They know the loss and joy of leaving home for Orlando, Florida, in order to seek their fortunes, and they know the pain which resulted when things did not go as planned.

And they share me, their light-skinned, brown-eyed, chestnut-haired, social-justice-loving, strong-willed daughter.

I am the child of Amer and Elizabeth, a Mustafa and a Davis.

I am a child of America and Palestine, of long-time citizens and almost-refugees, of struggle and privilege.

I have lived here for generations, and I am the first generation to occupy this soil.

I am a product of the occupied land of Palestine, the Amman ruins, the ocean air of Orlando, the Slippery Rock farm, the city of Winchester, the rolling hills of Bridgewater and Harrisonburg, and the busy highways of Northern Virginia.

I love steak with a bit of pink in the middle served with mashed potatoes covered in homemade gravy and corn on the cob planted and harvested by my late grandfather. My mom’s spaghetti is my favorite comfort food. I love falafel and baba ganoush, and my dad’s Middle Eastern grilling is delectable.

My family has two sides, but I interact with one like a citizen and the other like a tourist.

I am fluent in Pennsylvania slang and can barely recite the Arabic alphabet. My nose recalls the scents of my Gammy’s apple pie and the earth after a rainstorm, but it is still growing accustomed to the smells of naan and an approaching Fort Lauderdale summer shower. I have memorized the funny and heartbreaking stories of my mother’s family and struggle to recount basic stories of my father’s youth and his extended family’s history.

I found much joy in being reunited with my father and have found many struggles in reconciling these two identities. I admire my mom for her resilience during the struggles of our life together, and I wish both of my parents had found a way to bridge their personalities and cultures so I could fully know and love them both.

Do I get to authentically embrace both sides?

Do I get to enjoy Mom’s spaghetti and Baba’s kufta with the same level of authenticity and pride?

If I learn Arabic and Palestinian history primarily through books and classes, am I still able to identify as one of them?

Do bi-racial kids who grew up with only one parent get to honor both of them, or must we choose one over the other?

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I’m Not “Woke”

Oil Lamp

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” – Matthew 25:1-10 (NRSV)

In high school, I had thick, springy curls that my straight- and thin-haired friends and family envied. One of those friends, a white girl, told me that I had “black people hair.” I took it as a compliment.

I took it as such a compliment that I told my mother what my friend said while we were riding on the DC metro, and a woman of color was sitting in the seat right behind me.

My mother tried, in vain, to get me to shut up. But I still spewed those words out of my mouth.

There’s no nice way to put it: I made a racist comment.

At the next station, the woman in the seat behind me got up to leave, and as she walked by our seats, her bag bumped me rather roughly in the arm.

It was more than likely an accident. But I felt enough shame to never say the remark ever again.

*****

I wish I could say I stopped making racist comments and remarks, intentional or otherwise, after this encounter. But I didn’t.

Hell, I still say and think problematic words and thoughts. I still have strong biases that need time, effort, and intention to destroy.

Yet I once considered myself a “woke” person. I’m sure other white people did, too.

And that in and of itself is problematic.

First of all, as a white person, I shouldn’t be using a term that began as an urge by and for people of color  to “remain vigilant, but also to keep safe,” before being appropriated into a badge white allies use to say that “if they walk the walk, they get to talk the talk.”

Second of all, the use of the phrase implies that there is a prize white people get when they cross the non-existent finish line of “not being racist anymore.” For white people, our so-called “wokeness,” our collection of quotes, behaviors, and friends, does not prove we’re “no longer racist.”

Our work of dismantling white supremacy is more than that. It is an uncomfortable and unceasing journey, and white people can cover themselves with merit badges without putting a dent in this system.

Claiming a so-called “wokeness” separates us from other white people. It allows us to claim we’re done being racist while other white people are not.

It’s a false claim that says we no longer have biases towards people of color that still need to be broken down.

It’s a claim that falsely announces the demise of this whole system.

The hard truth of it all is I didn’t magically stopped being a racist when I started chanting “Black Lives Matter” or when I marched in Charlottesville.

I’m still part of this broken system, so I’m still a racist. And that hasn’t stopped yet. Not now. Maybe not even in my own lifetime.

The same applies to all of us white folks.

*****

Along with most white Christians, I like to think I’m one of those wise, eternity-minded bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, ready and waiting for the coming Kingdom with oil overflowing.

But more often than not, I’m one of the foolish ones caught unaware and unprepared, left begging my siblings of color for oil to light my lamp instead of fetching it for myself ahead of time.

So I’m getting rid of this “woke” label, one that was never mine to claim to begin with.

Instead, I’m waking up to my own self, my own biases and complicity, and the system that has made them all possible. I’m waking up to my past sins and attempting to move forward in humble repentance instead of being paralyzed by personal shame. I’m awakening compassion, empathy, and understanding within me, and I’m opening my ears to be more attuned to the stories of pain and joy from people of color. I will wake up to my need to admit wrong-doing and to apologize.

But waking up isn’t an easy process, either, nor is it a quick one.

Sometimes, I hit the snooze button. Sometimes, I take a long time to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Sometimes, that bed of privilege and supremacy is so comfortable that I don’t want to dream of resting on anything else, even when I know that comfort is built on the backs of my marginalized siblings.

Sometimes, like the seven bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, I awaken with a jolt to discover I have no oil in my lamp and am lost in the dark, and those wiser and more prepared are moving towards a more perfect world.

It is in those times I am called to remember it’s one thing to bring a lamp in a dark space and quite another to bring the oil to light it.

And the sooner we realize we don’t have what we need to illuminate the darkness, the sooner we might start following those who have known the way much longer than we have.

I Want to Listen, But…

Education.com

In this divisive political climate, I really want to listen to you.

You have very different opinions than me, but I want to hear you out.

I want to see you as a person with integrity and goodwill, as someone who cares about others and loves this country, and as someone who loves God, the Bible, and the Church with all their heart, mind, and strength.

I want to sit down with you, have a conversation, and listen to what you have to say.

I really do.

But…

…You don’t care about the credibility of my opinion, or other opinions that aren’t yours or those who think like you.

…You won’t acknowledge the flaws and issues in your own logic and understanding.

…You won’t acknowledge your own privilege or biases.

…to even begin this conversation, I would have to drop all my legitimate fears and concerns, because you don’t want to hear them, and I don’t know if that kind of power imbalance makes a legitimate conversation worthwhile or even possible.

…I would have to call the guy “President” and feign respect for people for whom I have none so you won’t accuse me of being “unpatriotic,” an “entitled millennial who’s only upset because she didn’t get her way,” or a “snowflake.”

…if I get too passionate about something, you will probably accuse me of being an “irrational woman,” either to my face or to yourself.

…you will inevitably say “Not all men,” or “Not all white people,” or “Not all Christians” if I even mention certain issues, and you will show that you just don’t understand.

(Not to mention I also live with intense anxiety and hyper-sensitivity and can’t handle too much conflict at once without exploding, collapsing in on myself, or becoming completely exhausted…or all of the above.)

I want to listen, but…you just don’t get it.

I don’t even think you’re trying to get it.

*****

I want to talk. I want to have deep discussions with people who have different opinions than me.

I also want these conversations to be worth our time and energy.

I don’t want to check myself at the beginning of the conversation in order to listen to someone who has no intention of doing the same for me.

That’s not a conversation. That’s me laying myself down for you to trample.

And that’s unacceptable.

I want you to understand that white, male, hetero-, cis-, Christian supremacy is as big of a threat to our country as foreign terrorism, and that cutting programs for the poor harms the most vulnerable in our society as much as faulty infrastructure.

I want you to understand I am not against alternate viewpoints, but I am against viewpoints that promote inequality towards, and hatred and fear of, the most vulnerable in our society.

I want to understand you. I want to hear you out.

But I don’t trust that you’re going to do the same for me.

And as such, I can’t listen right now.

Dreams Deferred and Reborn

Bouquet

Elegant Bridal Hair Accessories

Several weeks ago, Mom and I went to Hobby Lobby searching for wedding bouquet ideas. We walked through aisle after aisle of multi-colored flowers, trying to find the ones which most matched the scheme we had planned (burgundy and gold).

We walked. We browsed. We talked about my financial struggles and whether they would get better.

And as we talked and shopped, I thought about Mom and her life.

As a young adult, she worked a difficult night shift job she didn’t like to make ends meet and afford things she wanted, like her very first car. Around age 30, she moved home with her new baby and a loaded moving van to finish her college degree. As I grew up, she took up extra jobs to ensure I could own a horse, play my own saxophone in the middle and high school bands, and go to college.

As I reflected on all of her hard work and sacrifices, I thought about her dreams, the ones she didn’t see come true, like becoming a vet or a P.E. teacher or a star athlete.

But she became a teacher to ensure she had a steady income and the same vacations and days off I had. She educated multitudes of children, and some of them still visit her, letting her know how they’re doing and how important she was to them.

And she did all she could to make sure I had the opportunity to have my own dreams and maybe see them come true.

I was always a dreamer. Every time I had to write an “All About Me” essay in school, I got giddy with excitement when I got to the “What are your dreams and goals?” section. I wanted to be everything: a marine biologist, a vet, a farmer, a writer, a teacher, a member of the Navy, a jazz musician, a pro skater, a jockey, and then some. I filled those pages with dreams upon dreams, and I had my ways to get to them, even if they seemed impossible.

And here I am, working multiple part-time jobs, still struggling to eke out a living and begin a new life with my fiance, and I wonder if I’ve let my mom down. She worked so hard for me, after all, and what do I have to show for it?

I wonder if I’ve let myself down, because I don’t always know what my dreams are, and I don’t feel like I’m on the fast-track to reach any of them. They seem so numerous and sporadic, disjointed and unrelated, and I don’t know which ones to pursue.

But as Mom and I went about our day, picking out my bouquet, eating lunch and dinner together, looking at bridesmaids dresses and arguing about where the reception should be and if the bridesmaids all needed to have the same style dress, I realized something.

Not many people accomplish the dreams they initially set out to do. And that’s OK.

Mom didn’t accomplish all of hers, and while I’m sure she feels the sting of those losses from time to time, I know she doesn’t regret having me in her life, even if the paths she took weren’t the smoothest. I haven’t accomplished all of my goals and dreams, because they change so often and the world isn’t always kind to dreamers, but I know I will always have the love of my mother, fiance, and others to give me reason, purpose, passion, and joy in this life.

For most of my young, life, I used to think not accomplishing your greatest dreams was the worst tragedy to someone could experience. I used to think it would result in regret and despair, the shriveling up of a soul like a raisin in the sun, as Langston Hughes described in “Harlem.” I told myself I had to accomplish at least one of my big dreams to find true satisfaction in life, or else I’d doom myself to a life of apathy, of going through motions and putting one foot in front of the other with no idea of where the steps would take me.

Now, I see this whole deferment of dreams as a mostly inevitable part of life.

Dreams come in and out like waves in a tide. As life happens, so do our dreams and plans. The flexible and willing among us adjust. They let their passion remain even when the dreams depart, and they fuel their new dreams with that same passion and joy.

Dreams can be for ourselves. They can be for the ones who come after us. They can be put on hold and then reactivated.

But as long as we keep the fire within us alive, as long as we continue to be surrounded and powered by love, we will remain alive, even when our biggest dreams die.

I’ve Got Your Back…And Some Olives (published on SheLoves Magazine)

On Saturday, Jan. 21, a group of friends and I joined with about 500,000 people to march on Washington, D.C. Together, we marched to support freedom of speech, religion, and press; to welcome the stranger and foreigner; and to stand up for equal rights and treatment for people of color, Muslims, women, immigrants, the disabled, and other oppressed groups.

What I will remember most will not be the speakers, as wonderful as they were, nor the signs, as hilarious and powerful as they were, nor my feet, as tired and sore as they were after 13 hours of work.

Want to read more? Then please follow this link to the rest of this post over at SheLoves Magazine.

Palestinian-Pennsylvanian: Reflections on My Heritage

parentals

I am the daughter of a Pennsylvanian woman and a Jordanian-Palestinian man.

On one side, I’ve been in America for several generations. On the other, I’m a first-generation American.

Mom and her family raised me. I didn’t even have my proper introduction to my father and his heritage until age 19, already fully developed and ingrained into my Pennsylvanian culture, preparing to navigate a culture foreign to my experience but natural to my bloodline.

Both sides lived lives of struggle and celebration, of keeping and losing land, of raising many children and living in close kinship with family.

Both sides lost the places they called “home,” one due to lack of proper funds and increasing age, the other as the result of colonialism and war.

Both have born the difficulties of maintaining peace of mind, body, and soul, for themselves and for their descendants. Both have sought “better” for themselves and their children, and both have discovered this road and these goals are not as precise as they had been told.

My mother and father left their own homes to seek their fortunes in Orlando, Florida. Mom returned to her family soon after my birth and stayed until she received her degree and found a job teaching in Virginia. Baba returns to his home sporadically due to distance and increased prices of airfare, sending money and visiting when he can, longing for the community he left and which I take for granted.

I know what it means to be Pennsylvanian. It’s eating corn on the cob with every meal in August, rooting for all the Pittsburgh teams no matter how the season fares, riding “quads” instead of ATVs, and drinking “pop” but never “soda.” It’s familiar. I can fall into its rhythms and norms easily.

Being Arabic is a different story, mainly because I don’t really know what it means to be Arabic, not culturally or even ethnically.

As a child, I knew my father came from Jordan, but I had no idea what their customs were, how different or similar they were to mine or my mom’s family. I found out Baba was a Muslim in Middle School when I found a Mecca necklace while snooping through Mom’s jewelry box. I did not know Mustafa was part of my name until I found it on the back of my baby picture hidden inside a “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornament.

Being Pennsylvanian came laid out and ready for me to claim. It’s my upbringing and my inheritance. I know its stories like the back of my hand. I can recite several from memory without hesitation, with great joy and sorrow when necessary.

Being Arabic did not come for me. I had to seek and find this birthright of mine, and now I’m not even sure it’s mine to have anymore.

I only have an idea of the foods we eat and an even more limited knowledge of the language we speak, the clothes we wear, and the music we listen to. I have yet to set foot on the land taken from my family and the land we settled in our displacement.

Am I not Arabic? Am I only Pennsylvanian? Do I have claim to the inheritances of my mother and father, or only to my mother’s?

And what does it mean to even claim an inheritance you can’t touch but can only experience?