Growing Up "Arab American"
By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer
When someone speaks about growing up Arab-American, there’s already this pre-existing notion and familiarity with what they are about to say. The typical “brown kid in a white suburb” living with the complicated dichotomy of both their Arab and American identities is the picture that had been painted over and over again.
From celebrities to authors to comedians, it’s as if this story is shared by all Arab Americans across the United States. However, this is only a fraction of the greater Arab American story as there is no one experience to define “Arab American” rather it’s a culmination of various experiences that gives meaning to the label. However, there are aspects of our unique amalgamated culture that stand as essential to our existence and our experiences in this country.
Being Arab American is a label that comes with pre-existing conditions, such as having to endure racism and prejudice specifically in the post 9/11 world. Racism has been a social force that greatly impacted Arab Americans today and has shaped our experiences in this country. The idea of having our identity be the centerpiece to years and years of policy and debates creates a hostile-like culture that exists around us.
It’s as if everyone has opinions about Arabs or Arab Americans no matter the case. Every time Arabs end up on a news headline, it’s seldom for the right reasons and we find ourselves trying to explain all these terrorist incidents abroad and domestically, even though we have absolutely nothing to do with it. This has put the community in a defensive position always having to explain themselves to the world all the while attempting to retain the Arab identity they came with.
However, as the first generation of kids that were born and raised here in the US, we saw things a little differently. Instead of adhering to our parents’ generation ideals of being grateful and surrendering to everything America has to offer, we as the first generation saw the flaws and demanded change.
This was very much our country as it was anyone else’s; we don’t know another “home” besides this one. Our relationship with the US is different in the sense that we are patriotic and we see America as our country, however, it was clear the US didn’t feel the same way.
Every time there’s a massive news event we pray it wasn’t an Arab who did it as we know first hand the repercussions of such. In contrast to our immigrant families, we no longer have to hold our tongue at social events when something racist is said. We no longer have to adhere to microaggressions and brush comments off our shoulders. Instead, our generation gave rise to powerful leaders like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib who we can finally look up to.
In mass pop culture, there wasn’t any representation of Arabs on the big screen. Even when there was, rarely would it depict any kind of normalcy in being Arab. The Arab role in Hollywood has always been reserved for the barbaric terrorist or the stupid bedouin. Not only were these representations inaccurate, but they have had serious damage to the image Arabs have in US popular culture.
Women have always been painted as the oppressed, needing to cover up their faces and bodies when entering a public setting. Rarely was their space for Arab feminism as nothing was seen beyond an Arab woman’s choice in modesty. In music, there weren’t many Arabs to look up to as well. However, part of the culture of being Arab American has meshed in with hip-hop culture as the music revealed feelings of being left out and experiencing America from the outside in.
However, times have changed drastically.
Recently, there’s been a huge push for change and even some of the most repressive policies passed in the last decade have brought forth the issue of discrimination that Arab Americans face every day. There’s a growing number of representation in the Arab American community as leaders in all sects of public life have become characters the younger generation can look up to.
Although, the fight for equality isn’t over yet, the recognition of an Arab American identity has become an inevitable part of the greater American tale. As time progresses, there will be more battles to fight however, educating people on what it means to be Arab American has been one of the most integral parts of progress. Moving forward, one could only wonder how much farther Arab Americans will continue to push the boundary in their identities and their existence in this country.