Just like any current 20 year old, I grew up watching Miley Cyrus’s innocent and addicting role of Hannah Montana on Disney Channel. I watched her face the fear of showing the world who she truly was– episode after episode. Believe it or not, this show hit home to me in ways that one would’ve never thought would be possible from a simple TV show. She found a way to make her “two worlds” work separately, and it wasn’t until a couple seasons later where she showed the world who she truly was.
Well, that’s my life in a nutshell; and no, I’m not secretly a pop-star singer that hides who I am through nothing but a mere blonde wig. I’m not an actor, nor a singer. I’m a Muslim, Egyptian woman, that battles between two cultures and two worlds. Not what you expected, huh?
Over the years, people have shied away from referring to America as the melting pot, and have instead began referring to it as a salad bowl; a place where cultures don’t just melt together, they blend. But they melt. And boy do they melt. They melt at the times you don’t want them to. But they don’t melt together, they melt separately. It’s like oil and vinegar trying to mix together, but only end up piled up on top of each other; each one fighting for a bigger spot. To me, those spots are time periods; Time periods that I’ll never get back.
This isn’t a sob story about how I was bullied and tormented for being Muslim. This also isn’t a sob story about how it was difficult to make friends in a town where I was the only “ethnic” individual (even thought I was). But rather, this sob story I write about is a story that I made up and created in my head– for about 16 years.
I grew up wanting to fit in, and as a junior in college reminiscing on my high school years, I accomplished just that. Three-year varsity soccer & basketball starter. Honor roll. Homecoming court. Everything. And I don’t mean to list those to show off how popular I was at one point in time, but rather to show that I accomplished so much without showing people who I really was: an Egyptian Muslim. I was that “ethnic” girl that everyone knew was ethnic, but rarely talked about it. Instead, I was just referred to as Princess Jasmine, and that was about as Middle Eastern my conversations with fellow classmates would get. The topic of Ancient Egypt would be covered in history class and I would fight the urge to not raise my hand. I didn’t want to be looked at differently. I wanted to fit in and survive high school–without having to deal with question after question after question.
But I dealt with them anyways:
- Why does your mom wear a scarf around her head? — I would get while being picked up from soccer practice.
- Wait, so you’re Egyptian? Like, you believe in all of that mummy stuff? — I would get in the rare moments I would bring up my ethnicity.
- You speak Arabic? Teach me something!– I would get after being overheard talking on the phone.
- Why are your parents not letting you come to the party tonight? — I would get while I would lie/make-up a reason why I couldn’t go, other than for cultural purposes… and the list goes on and on.
I don’t even look at those questions as ones that should make you filled with pity, because the only time I realized how depressed I was was when I found myself lying– day after day; About why I couldn’t attend huge school outings such as football games, dances, prom; how I couldn’t just go out on a date with the star of the soccer team that ALL of my friends had their eyes on. It was just difficult, but I made it more difficult. I created scenarios in my head about how I wouldn’t have any friends. I would not only have dreams about showing everyone both of my worlds, but I would have nightmares about their reactions. I felt like I was hiding a part of my life that didn’t need to be hid. Why couldn’t I just come out of my shell and talk about Egypt and Islam to everyone? Why couldn’t I just blurt out facts and educate my friends, no matter how dumb their questions may have been? Egypt and Islam were my definition, not my end. All I ever wanted back then was to allow the word honesty back into my vocabulary. I wanted to be honest with everyone, including myself.
Despite all this, I still kept my cultural and religion alive all those years. People always ask me how I did it. They stare at me with a surprised happy face when I yell out in full Egyptian Arabic–with absolutely no accent. All of my parent’s friends adore the Egyptianess I keep inside of me, even though I’d never been born there. Maybe they adore me because they had failed at creating this passion for Egypt in their own kids? I have no idea. All I really know is that I will forever owe it to my parents and their strict minds. I owe it to the endless visits they allowed me to take to see my friends and family. I visited & I visited often, but back then I never really cherished the summers I spent in Egypt, the place I will forever refer to as my home away from home. Instead I would just disappear away from America and all my friends for about 3 months, go live my “Egyptian-side” and then come back the first day of school and tuck that side away, at least until the ring of the last school bell. After which I’d step through my house door and ramble off in Arabic to my parents, as if school and that “American” side of me never happened.
I’ll never remember the exact day or moment where I let loose of both and instead had them overlap, because it wasn’t a scene that could have been made an episode, just like Hannah Montana, but it happened. And boy oh boy am I glad it did. I began to somehow merge myself. I mended both of my worlds together, instead of living out each one separately. I woke up one day and realized that this is who I am, an Egyptian, living in America. I’m a girl who is 100% Egyptian. A girl who through all the peer-pressure stayed true to her morals and religion. A girl who people often even judge for being a Muslim without a scarf. A girl who fought the Arab stereotype and now lives on her own– independently. A girl who refuses to let society define her by her ethnic background. A girl who will continue to mend both worlds together for the rest of her life.
My religion and culture define who I am because they make me who I am. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t somehow succeed at balancing both of them over these past couple years. And even though I may have not balanced them right way, I still somehow kept them alive. In a generation where more and more immigrants become citizens and those citizens live out their American dream, they often forget about their children. Their children that suffer from being Hannah Montana’s (yes, I said it); These children turn into adults that will always seem to suffer from being two people in one. The only key to survival is surrounding these children with individuals who are thirsty for culturally diverse knowledge, without any sign of judgment. Then and only then will people like me be able to truly say that they have the best of both worlds.
But no worries, I don’t think I’ll be chopping all my hair off anytime soon. I hope.