In the last year, I got engaged, left teaching (at least, for now), turned 30, moved to a different state, got married, and am now trying to get into the work within the field of education that I’d really like to be doing (namely, equity work) in earnest. So, I’m actively learning to navigate life wearing new and unfamiliar identities.
Although, I think identity is a largely dynamic, ever-changing concept, the identities that remain static for me are: Palestinian-American, woman, traveler, learner, writer, educator, and food lover.
As a first generation Palestinian, Muslim American growing up in the American South (Little Rock, AR, to be exact), I often felt confused about my identity. There were no other Arabs or Muslims in the schools I attended and they weren’t living in my neighborhood either. I was in kindergarten the first time someone told me I was going to burn in the infinite fires of hell for not being “saved.” There was attention drawn to me for being different and, as a child who wants nothing more than to fit gracefully into the social fabric of the society in which he/she lives, that attention was undesirable. I can recall shopping at the local Kroger with my momma and she would be speaking to me loudly (always loudly) in Arabic and I can remember responding with an agitated insistence on speaking to me in English. I just didn’t want to feel so different.
I should note that I didn’t quite fit in in Palestine either though. Upon the many childhood trips we took to Jerusalem, my folks there never let me forget that I was “the American cousin/niece.” For them, I was too independent, too outspoken, too spoiled, and I was clearly a deficient, pseudo-Arab since I mostly spoke English and broken Arabic. See, my parents often spoke to me in Arabic and I would respond in English. This created a vast discrepancy between my ability to understand and my ability to speak the language. This disconnection from my parent’s native tongue is perhaps the most potent regret of my life.
However, I had to forgive my past self for ever feeling ashamed of some part(s) of my identity (of my nose or my name). We are not immune to the racist/ xenophobic/classist/ableist/homophobic messages to which we are exposed in this terribly unjust society.
Once I forgave myself, I finally learned to read and write in Arabic through my own studies in my early 20s. While I can handle various, polite social situations in Arabic, I cannot sustain a very sophisticated conversation in the language, a language that has become increasingly sacred to me. Maybe, just maybe, this will change someday.
The feeling that I fit in with neither my Palestinian nor my American cultures meant that so often, I felt like an island. I think this struggle is probably common among children of diaspora or the children of immigrants. Eventually, though, I have learned to embrace that which is culturally unique to me.
I am (proudly) both Palestinian and American. Those identities are not mutually exclusive. It is important that we dig deeper into our own rich cultural heritages/histories in order to both establish a deeper connection to our lineage and to proudly share the cultural practices of our ancestors with generations to come so our traditions are not lost. Now I realize, that my culture is poetry and healing, rhythm and color, something to be cherished, proudly paraded down the streets, in any school or work place in any town.
Increasingly, with age, I’m realizing that the most critical work I have to do in this world is on myself, first and foremost. To be honest, I’ve felt rather guilty for being a lousy activist/organizer lately, but I’ve been busy fighting a different fight. The last few years of my life have been full of grief and an incredible amount of change. In addition to a few difficult situations in my personal life, I found myself deeply disillusioned with the field of education. I spent three years teaching after finishing graduate school. It didn’t take too much time in actual schools to squander the glittering idealism that I had when I entered the field and for me to realize that working as an educator means participating in a system that is utterly broken and inequitable.
I have a lot of healing and critical self-reflection to do in order to participate in the movement in any meaningful way. One thing that will always be constant is the strength that lies inside of me. The strength of my people, my ancestors, the ways in which they have persisted amidst all odds, shows me that I can too persist despite a feeling of hopelessness. My own beloved community, which includes some family, friends, my husband, and activists/organizers inspire me in their tireless pursuits of justice.
I am very much in the midst of recognizing my own power again, in what I hope is a big way. I think I was keenly aware of it during my childhood and adolescent years. I used to be fearless. I sang and danced my way through every talent show in elementary school and bravely entered my writing into contest after contest in high school. I was comfortable in all my idiosyncrasies. As I slid into adulthood, my anxieties began robbing me of much of my confidence/power. It’s a shame, really. It’s one of the reasons why I love being around children, though—that courageous, magical energy that is just so beautiful and infectious.
If I can learn how to become the master of my thoughts and emotions, to pacify my (sometimes) paralyzing anxiety and fear, to silence that voice in my head that tends to creep up at the most inopportune times to whisper in my ear “you’re actually not good enough,” then I can deem myself victorious.
Rumi’s quote “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself” comes to mind here. As for now, the extent to which I’m able to just relax and let go of my need to control every little detail will help me tremendously. To be patient with myself as I learn, unlearn, and heal because at the end of the day our lives matter, our voices matter, our bodies matter and I need to do whatever I can to let them be unapologetically heard and seen!
Want to stay connected to Razan and her work?
- Website: www.razanabdin.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/razanabdin/
- Facebook: @raaconsulting
- Twitter: @razanabdin
Razan offers workshops, trainings, consultations, freelance writing, and social media management. Though she is currently based out of Charlotte, NC, her services are available worldwide via video chat. She is also available for travel. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss the needs of your community!