I am an Arab-American Muslim, woman, daughter, sister, student, teacher, and writer. I place the parts of my identity in that order.
I am constantly aware of my intersecting nationalities. I attended a private Islamic elementary school in Fresno, California alongside other Arab Muslims, where we learned standard reading, writing, and math curriculum. Yet, we also studied Arabic, Qur’anic teachings, Islamic history; the girls wore hijab; the sheikh stopped instruction at around 1pm for the whole school to gather and pray. At home, I studied the Qur’an with my dad before reading Charlotte’s Web, responded to my Parents’ Arabic in English, and listened to Fairouz and Britney Spears. Navigating this dichotomy in my identity frequently impacts my interactions with others.
It is especially apparent to me when my gender intersects with my ethnicity and nationality. For example, I feel a strong allegiance to my family as a daughter and sister to the point that I prioritize these relationships and identities over my career, passions, and other relationships. The Arab women in my life shared a sense of selflessness that helped shape me into a strong and happy person. Before high school, I was really shy and overwhelmingly introverted. Moreover, post-Islamic school, I usually played the role as the only Arab girl in class and did not have many Arabs in leadership roles to represent or inspire me. The tipping point for me recognizing my power is when I was elected as class president. Earning that leadership role as a woman of color in a mostly White school really showed me that, when given the right tools, people in the minority can see real success. From there on, I no longer let the social construct of my identities drive my decisions and belief in what I am capable of.
Currently, I am a special education teacher in Las Vegas. Every day I gain powerful insight into the relationship between race and class in our educational system, as well as more ideas to reform the system. Ultimately, I know that I do not want my impact to rest there.
I am using writing and journalism as another avenue for impact. I am building my own portfolio and brand through a blog titled “The Z.” I compose pieces regarding the Middle East, U.S foreign and domestic relations, and our educational system, just to name a few. My goal and dream is for my writing to capitalize on the important parts of my identity and provide an opportunity for my readers to explore their identities, upbringing, and personality that bring invaluable wealth to this world. We need to know that we shouldn’t qualify our skills in relation to Western standards. White America wouldn’t exist without people of color and the innumerable ways our diversity brings success to the U.S. I want people to think about how they positively contribute to their local community, school, work, state, country, and the world and ultimately, make that our standard of excellence.
Want to stay connected to Zeina and see more of her writing?
- ig: zeinarousan