diasporia and duality: being at odds with my dual identity as a daughter of immigrant parents, and building my own identity/coming to terms with who i am.
I am American, or so my documentation says; though this country is fickle and its deep pocket full of money – my parent’s taxes and my own among those dollars – buys the bombs and bullet shells destroying my family overseas, along with the other oppressed peoples who have my solidarity.
My heart and my blood, however, tell me that I am Palestinian. My identity lies in the rubble, the rotting streets where the infrastructure has dissolved into poverty, the lush olive groves, the village my father fled as a child. My identity is buried in a land of milk and honey watered with the blood of my people. My identity is split with a 40/60 partition line that hemorrhaged across my country – outgrowing its already non-consensual reach — and a concrete wall that continues to encroach, serpentine and barbed wire-spined, biting chunks of flesh from villages and the morose adults who grew from intifada youth. My spine grew hunched over as I slumped to reach the sun, like a withering flower beneath a canopy of light-swallowing branches.
Get the picture?
Somewhere along the line, I internalized the idea that being an immigrant, or the child of immigrants (as I am), comes with a dual identity. Growing up, I was too Arab for the white kids at school – who were the vast majority in my small town – and they would never let me forget that. Visiting family back in Palestine wasn’t much better; I was bewilderingly American for my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. I wasn’t Muslim enough for the mosques, but I was too Muslim for my classmates to stop making terrorist jokes. The duality was chaotic and confusing.
English is technically my second language. My mother recalls two year-old Bayan chattering in Arabic only, but for nineteen year-old Bayan, English is more familiar. I’ve had to re-teach myself my native tongue, and in all honesty, my Arabic is still a work in progress. How ironic, that despite English being a language shoved down my throat by the subtle violence that is assimilation, I speak Arabic in my own broken dialect that rolls out of my mouth with all the clumsiness of marbles spilling to the floor.
There’s that duality again. It’s familiar to a lot of us – children of diaspora, I mean. Children of families seeking opportunity, safety, or both. Sometimes I feel a heavy sense of guilt pressing on my chest as I contemplate the fact that that could’ve been me: all those Palestinians living in poverty, those Palestinians living in tents on the ruins of demolished houses, my cousins crossing checkpoints to leave their cites, that could’ve been me. Though it is unproductive and does nothing to help me advocate for my country, it takes a lot of effort to shake off that guilt, especially knowing that I didn’t always take pride in my origins. For such a long time, I pretended that that struggle did not exist in me.
I pretended it didn’t exist when I stopped bringing my friends to my house in sixth grade because I hated apologizing for “the smell”, that smell being the heavy aroma of spices that marked mom and dad’s cooking (how I found that to be a problem, I don’t know. It is actually wonderful). I pretended that struggle didn’t exist when I ran from my mother’s car every morning in middle school, hoping no one would have time to realize that I’d been dropped off by a woman in a hijab. I realize the ridiculousness of it now, but back then, I was so obsessed with assimilation. That’s what the environment I lived in did to me, as much as I hate to admit it.
Today, just writing about this makes me cringe. As a child, the desperation for assimilation had me resigned to the idea that as a brown girl, I was invisible at best. At worst, I was a particularly loathsome brown speck on the clean, white slate of western society. A change came in high school, when I began to learn about feminism and intersectionality on a deeper level. The idea that nothing about my body was wrong sparked an internal revolution; in all honesty, my intersectional brand of feminism saved me.
Still, I found my brown-tinged image in nothing, save for the occasional inaccurate or exoticized portrayal. The morphing, blossoming version of me wouldn’t have that. Since I never found myself in the pictures, I built myself out of the disjointed pieces in an act of defiance.
It took me a while to realize that when I can’t find yourself in anything else, when I have nothing else to believe in, I can always find myself in me and I can always believe in me. But I realize it now. I can take the bits and pieces that I want to incorporate into myself from wherever I please – the sources are out there. From a dualistic background, I’ve carved out a whole, unfractured girl. And I rather like her.
(photo by: Sanaa Hamid from her "Diasporic Cyanotypes" series)
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