Representation: On Being Palestinian

I heard the usual comments growing up; ‘You’re so exotic looking’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Were you born here?’ As a child I felt like the big bad wolf; ”What big eyes you have!” they would say, “What big hair you have!” “What big lips you have!”. By the age of 11 I was squinting my eyes and pursing my lips in pictures to look more ‘normal’.

Representation is something I didn’t know I needed, something I had no idea I was missing. Only recently I started looking, because I saw someone, someone that looked like me and talked like me and expressed things that I have been feeling! And in a strong and powerful way. This person is Linda Sarsour. Seeing her speak at the women’s march brought me to tears. I could’t believe it she said the P word! (Palestine). I don’t know why I never sought out the people of my community but I never thought to look. I grew up in white suburbia and I had grown accustomed to blending in and molding myself to my surroundings. It was tiring but necessary. Sticking out was too dangerous, I was a Palestinian Muslim where Islamophobia and Zionism is strong. Palestinian identity is scary. Its met as an act of defiance. Over the past couple of years I have experienced the most intense push-back for simply being. It’s not really something I bring up in everyday conversation. I don’t slip in a ‘Free Palestine!’ while making small talk with other moms at school pickup, but if people ask, then they know. So what’s the big deal?

The Palestinian-American identity is conflicting. It is stressed that you are Palestinian! You are Palestinian! Your father is from Nablus! But in the same breath there is an unspoken understanding, don’t tell anyone you are Palestinian. “My family lives in Jordan,” I would say “So you’re Jordanian?” Umm sure. I do love Jordan as my own country also. Jordan is beautiful the people are so kind and the best part of my childhood is my memories from living there. I was welcomed in my new school, I had 30 cousins and family members within arms reach. I felt a safe sense of belonging without even having practiced speaking Arabic fluently.

A couple years ago I was seeing a counselor. “Who told you you were Palestinian?” he said.  “Huh? Ummm my entire family, they are from Palestine… whaaa? “You know that’s just a political statement. You’re really Jordanian.” Oh no why is this conversation happening. When met with confrontation I usually take the high road. Most people that are confrontational are not looking to have a conversation, they are looking to label. Needles to say I never went back.

Representation is important in empowering people of different ethnic backgrounds, religions, disabilities, struggles and lifestyles. When we feel we are not alone we feel less vulnerable. We are more inclined to speak up, stand together, and protect one another. Representation also brings awareness and familiarity to the general public. It enables understanding and compassion among respective communities. As I seek out representation and role models in the Arab community I am inspired. Through social media and blogs, their voices are much more accessible. Representation builds a community of self confidence and respect. This is why I share, I want to contribute to this community. I want to create and contribute to the conversation.

Watch the video if you haven’t seen it! #IMarchWithLinda

Linda Sarsour Women’s March Speech


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