The fact that I
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else
-Gustavo Perez Firmat
As a child, I remember never really understanding who I was. I pledged allegiance to the same flag that my classmates did, but I also memorized Quran. I fasted for one month during the year and I spoke two languages. And on the weekends, unlike most of my school friends, I went to school to learn Quran and Arabic. It was there that I met people who were like me. People whose parents also spoke English with an accent, and people who understood that we were different. But on the weekdays, I went back to being confused. To further emphasize my identity crisis, once in fourth grade, a boy in my class was going around to each of my classmates, pointing out whether they were white or black. When he reached me, my brown pigmentation and Middle Eastern features must have been as confusing to him as they were to me, as he said, “I don’t know what you are.”
Though I was born and raised in America, my parents always instilled in me my Palestinian roots and my Islamic faith and so I have always felt like somewhat of an outsider with my non-Arab and non-Muslim friends. As I grew older and had the chance to travel to Arab and Muslim countries, I thought that I would finally be able to feel at home. But I didn’t. What I thought was fluent Arabic that I was speaking was actually broken and I was criticized for it. My ways of thinking were deemed “American” and I was made to feel like an outsider, more than ever before.
For a long time, the only word I could think to describe myself was mudblood–a word coined by J.K. Rowling used to describe wizards and witches whose parents were muggles. Mudbloods have no magical ancestry and they carry first-generation magic. Despite it being used as a derogatory term, I related very much to this term because I was a first-generation Palestinian American. And in many ways, I could only relate to other first generation Arab Americans, more so than non-Arab Americans, or non-American Arabs.
Now, after years of struggling with who I am, I realize that I am not American. I am not Palestinian. I am not a mudblood. Rather, I am a unique mix of all of those things in one person plus so much more. I don’t belong in any one of those places because I belong in all of them (yes, even Hogwarts). I cannot be classified into one category, because there are so many dimensions to my identity. As a result, my feeling of belonging may never be fulfilled because there is no one place for my uniqueness. But I am now realizing what I once believed was a struggle–having multiple facets to my identity–is actually a privilege chosen for me by God, and I am grateful for it.