May 2, 2012 2 Comments
I remembered this post as I walked past the 9/11 memorial here in NYC this week… Hope you enjoy!
“Oh! That’s an interesting name! Where’s it from?”
I used to hestitate. I used to pause, evaluating the tolerance level of my audience before proceeding to what would inevitably in some way or other define the future interactions and relationship between myself and the curious inquirer.
I don’t hesitate anymore. I don’t stop, don’t wait, don’t evaluate. I don’t draw out my response by initially answering “It’s Arabic!”, and waiting to see if the person standing in front of me will push further, asking for more detail, asking the real question they’re trying to get at, which is “But where are YOU from?”
“I’m Palestinian”, I say, looking them straight in the eye, watching first for the flicker of recognition, then for the fizzle of expectation and hope as the imagination that lives behind their eyes quickly kills off or severely maims images of a could-have-been friendship. Because now it’s just all too complicated. Now it’s about more than just the two of us.
“Oh!” Eyes diverted, brain cranking out different excuses for why the conversation should end now, or how to make a clean transition into something completely unrelated.
I can guarantee that in many cases, if not most, people who get that answer were either not expecting it or not prepared for it. Standard answers for this question range from “The Middle East” to “Jordan”, “Egypt”, “Lebanon”, and the occasional “Los Angeles”. After spending the better part of my life dancing around the answer, I now feel entitled to say it like it is. I deserve to be able to lay claim to that part of my identity without shame, without hesitancy, and without apprehension.
Being Palestinian is a part of who I am, (as are being Jordanian, American, female, crazy, a mother, crazy, etc.) and although it does not define me, it is the answer to the question of where the color of my hair and skin, and the shape of my eyes and nose come from. It explains my affinity for dark bitter coffee and the smell/taste of freshly baked pita bread, as well as why I rip my bread up into little pieces and dip it into my food. It explains why I’ve lived in so many different parts of the world, attended 11 schools (before college), and am constantly looking for a place to call home.
To be fair, not everyone who asks is taken aback/turned off by my answer. Some people, you can genuinely tell, just don’t care. Or, alternately, they do care, but not in the wondering how many of my brothers and/or cousins are responsible for global Islamist terrorism kind of way.
Yeah, that again. It’s September, and although I’m not a lingerer, this year I’ve found myself going back in time. Perhaps it is the melange of Quran-burning, Islamic-center building, Middle East “Peace Process” news and debate, all falling on the memory of the day we all got a taste of what humans are capable of in the name of religion.
It saddens me to see people refer to America as having made progress by reassuring us that Muslims will not be “rounded up and placed in Concentration camps” (see Fellow Americans’ Suspicions frustrate US Muslims). The mere fact that this image is one that can still come to mind is disturbing; it’s like telling someone not to think of a Pink Elephant. Trust me, everyone who has read the equivalent of that quote (and I’ve seen variations of it a number of times over the past 9 years) has at one point or another imagined Muslims being rounded up and put in a concentration camp. (You guys are thinking of pink elephants too. RIGHT?!)
I truly hope this country can move forward and move beyond lumping people under one umbrella cause, religion, ethnicity, or color, thereby assigning them the same characteristics, tendencies, and deciding who they are without learning more about them as individuals. I truly do.
However. I am cautious around the hope that people can fundamentally change, and that we can get beyond our differences. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve lived through numerous failed regurgitations of the Middle East Peace Process, where the same exact people keep saying the same exact things with the same exact result. Perhaps it was having to personally experience (with my family, my husband’s family even more dramatically, as well as scores of others) separation as we pursue the long and sometimes arduous trail of citizenship. That sacred gift of insurance, that promise of a safe haven that would ensure our rights to life, shelter, and human dignity.
Still, I know hope and faith in humanity deserve a chance. If not for my own lifetime, then for my son’s. And although I will tell him the truth, when the time comes, of the current state of humanity, I will do my best to cultivate tolerance, and instill a sense of hope in him.
All the while being his Palestinian, Jordanian, American, yoga-loving, running at the crack of dawn, semi-vegitarian, crazy mom.