Dubai’s close proximity to Lebanon and Syria made it easy for my family and I to visit a lot as I was growing up. I lived never-ending summer breaks baking in summer heat, drinking orange soda out of a plastic bag and straw. We did chores, sat outside, ate ice cream on the curb, played cards, walked around the town, and came back home. We dreamed about reuniting with sweet, sweet internet, and could only have it when we traveled to the beach city in Syria or drove into Lebanon. Gunfire, protests, bombs, no electricity, lack of hot water– these were normal occurrences.
From a young age, I was exposed to the culture, background and religion I was born into. My parents raised us right by showing us the beauty of where we came from, no matter how uneventful and/or unsafe it seemingly was. We were bred on understanding and acceptance, and told to appreciate our roots. More importantly, we were told to appreciate the opportunities given to us as third culture kids.
Texas is a ways away from the Middle East, and finding myself back here for university was a challenge. Though difficult at first, I was lucky that the area I live in is diverse in people and lifestyles. But rooted in this state, and honestly, throughout the country, are old school “values” I do not concur with. Austin is a special place that is seemingly paradoxical and stands as an anomaly in its own state, contradicting the Texas stereotype. And I’m proud to call it my second home.
Now, understand that when I speak about these issues, I am earnestly trying to confront them in a non-political sense. But living in a state that’s limboing in between red and blue depending on the area you reside has to be addressed as an Arab, Muslim woman. Especially after this pivotal election cycle.
The week after the election, my sister was greeted into her parking lot with kids chanting inappropriate comments and racial slurs. Her friend, who wears a hijab, was threatened by another classmate, stating that all he wanted to do was rip it off of her head. A friend’s brother called her crying because kids at school shunned him for the dark color of his skin, and another friend’s sibling got told to “go back to Mexico.” It’s mortifying to me that these words are being spoken. But it’s even more worrisome that these words are coming from the lips of children that are not even eighteen years old.
I have been directly chastised because of who I am in the past. But this is not what upsets me. I can take the shit, especially at 22. It’s when any time Islam is addressed as a plague, or all Arabs are associated with ISIS, or a girl wearing a hijab is threatened– this is what upsets me. It’s not right that my family is discouraging us to speak in our native tongue or advising us to avoid debate and discussion for reasons relating to our safety.
My father moved to the United States at 17 years old to have a life that he could not have in the Middle East. He worked hard to get where he is today, never failing to provide my family with everything and anything we would ever need. He is Arab, but he is also American, and he loves this country. He works every day to give back to us and the place he calls home. Why in the hell must I think about his safety now? Why should I worry about him feeling unwanted as an Arab man residing in the United states? I shouldn’t, but I do.
So today, after reflecting on everything these last few months, I can confidently grasp my motives. If I hear something offensive, inappropriate, racist, sexist, xenophobic– I will intercede. I’m not trying to be a hero. I’m simply trying to save who I am so I have something left to share for those younger than me. I want to be the best version of myself because of my family. I am a an Arab, Muslim woman living in Texas, where racism and fear are still alive for those who are different. I cannot save all of those who are afraid to live in their skin, but I can most certainly help.
To all the little Arab kids (actually, all kids) never, ever stop. Be proud of who and what you are. Go to school with your head held higher than everyone else’s. Don’t be afraid of your skin, rather, fight for it. And if you’re living in Texas like I am, don’t be ashamed. Spread the love for your roots, and tell everyone about the allure of the Mediterranean. Plant your own seeds and grow from there.
To all the assholes who ever told me I was “too pretty” to be Arab, or could in no way be Muslim because of what I was wearing, or that I didn’t belong in Texas and should “go back to where I came from,” I have a message for you. I’m proud to be a Texan, and just as proud to be Arab. And to your dismay, I’m not going anywhere.
By Dahlia Dandashi
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