Dina Soliman shares her personal journey, being born to an Egyptian family in Queens NY. She stresses the importance of education and communication, and the need for inspirational role models in her community. This story was recorded and produced in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I grew up in Queens with an Egyptian Muslim family. Growing up, they were not that strict on me learning Arabic, nor did they put me in an Arabic school. My mom actually wanted me to grow up fully in the American culture.
My mom is such a strong woman, she is very strong. She came to this country when she was probably 20 and had to learn the language here. Her father was a very strict army general and people were intimidated by him. He taught my mom to not be scared of anybody and let her know she was an incredibly strong woman. She was the only girl out of six boys. My mother is one of the biggest influences of my current overall personality.
My direction in life, from childhood, is that I didn’t have one. I was not the kind of child that said “ When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.” I either wanted to be a singer, or a backup dancer. I wanted to to do this, I wanted to do that….I had so many different dreams. When I was fourteen, I had my first job working at an after school program, and this was the first out of many jobs I had in the educational field. The educational field has always been my favorite and ultimately led me to where I am today. I intend to enact a lot of changes, and especially as an Arab speaker employed in the education field, we definitely need more Arab culture/inspirational role models.
There are still schools that don’t teach about Eid or Ramadan, and as a result you have kids asking “ why are you doing that to yourself? Why is your religion starving you?” Educating people is important. There should be workshops for teachers to set guidelines about educating students on Islam, just as there is a standard about teaching kids about Christianity and Judaism.
I don’t think we communicate enough. I’m the kind where I like going out there and meeting new people, but the norm has become being on your phone and texting. Online “communication” takes ownership of lives at the moment. Real communication is key. Go out there, go meet your friends.
For me, because I don’t wear the hijab, yet, I often get negative feedback from family back in Egypt. My response is that one day, the time will come, which also applies to the remark “ you should settle down.” Girls my age from a traditional Arab culture are getting engaged and starting their families, which is something I do not want right now.”