By Yasmina Mrabet
By Yasmina Mrabet
Morocco World News
Washington D.C., October 1, 2012
The fact is, I am American – my mother is American. The other fact is, I am Moroccan – my father is Moroccan.
Here’s the “problem.” I live in America, and as it turns out, I look more like my father than my mother. According to what I’ve been told in similar conversations to what you will read below, I look like I could be any number of nationalities and ethnicities, including, but not limited to: Egyptian, Iranian, Indian, Emirati, Saudi, Kuwaiti, Latina…yes, the list does go on.
In any case, living in America means that my ambiguous features require a full and complete explanation of where I am “really” from. I have tried multiple strategies to deal with the said requirement. None of them get me out of a conversation that I think I may be doomed to have over and over, at least once a week, for as long as I live in America.
Sometimes, the interrogation is short, sometimes it is relentlessly long. If I say I’m American, I need to explain why I “look like I’m from somewhere else.” If I say I’m Moroccan, I need to explain why I speak English so well. Inevitably, once they find out that I’m Moroccan (half Moroccan, but that’s beside the point), once they find out that I grew up in the United Arab Emirates or in Qatar, and once of course we get past the explanation of where these countries actually are (no, the UAE is not in Dubai, Dubai is in the UAE, etc.)…I am bombarded with a string of questions usually regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, al-Qaeda, and of course the popular status of Arab and Muslim women, which cover issues including (and usually limited to) the headscarf, the burqa, the long black dress thing…oh and the men-can-have-four-wives thing.
Some of these questions come from a place of curious ignorance. Some come from a place of perceived positional superiority. Some come from a place of what I can only interpret as morbid fascination. Wherever they come from, all of these questions put me into my place as a foreign “other,” as an educator and representative of every Arab and Muslim in existence. I am put into a defensive position where I must explain myself, my culture, my religion, and all associated persons, traditions, countries, and conflicts. I am expected to know everything about Islam, everything about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, everything about the Arab experience in Western societies, everything about what it’s like “over there” for women and everything concerning “those people.”
I struggle with the strong instinct to try and provide in-depth explanations – in such a way that my identity and the complex, diverse experiences, histories, cultures and religions of predominantly Arab societies around the world are recognized and respected. I also struggle with a deep frustration with the fact that these people won’t just Google it.
It is from that place of frustration that I posted the conversation below, which is how it tends to go when I do not have the energy to explain, when I do not have the energy to defend, when I do not have the energy to educate.
A conversation I have (in America) at least once a week
Person: Where are you from?
Person: Were you born there?
Me: I was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Person: But what are you, originally?
Me: Ok, I’m Moroccan.
Person: But you speak English so good!
Me: Thanks, I speak it well because I’m American.
Person: Ohh, so your parents came over here when you were little?
Me: No, I was born here, and my mom is American. My dad is Moroccan. I am half Moroccan, half American.
Person: Where is Morocco again?
Me: It’s in Northwest Africa.
Person: Oooohh, but it’s still like, Middle Eastern right? Do you have to like, cover your hair and face?
Me: No, I don’t have to cover my hair or face.
Person: Ohhh…well that’s great! Is that because your parents lived here and are more open-minded and stuff?
Me: No, it’s because I don’t have to cover my hair or face. Unless I want to.
Person: Oh ok, but it must be hard for women there, especially living in war…
Me: I never lived in war…
Person: But isn’t there like, that big religious conflict over there, like, against Israel?
Me: You mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Morocco is in Northwest Africa…
Person: Ooohhh…ok well that’s good. So it’s not like those other places over there. And it must be really hot all the time right?
Me: It depends on the time of year…
Person: Well it was like, so nice to meet you, it’s so cool that you’re, like, from such an exotic place!
Me: Nice to meet you too…
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