Farah Harb is a student at Loyola University Chicago, and currently an intern for MALA’s 2017 Fall Semester. She recounts her personal journey in reconciling with her identity from Egypt to Dubai and ultimately to the United States.
If I could only put in words the excitement I felt as a nine-year old when my dad told my mom, my sister, and I, that we were moving to America, I would. But somehow, I can’t find the precise words to string together to truly describe my loud and jumbled thoughts about coming to the “Land of the Free.” To a fantasizing nine-year old, what coming to the United States meant was that I would finally get to be the American I saw on TV; that I would get to be in the same country as Hannah Montana!
The heartbreaking reality that I faced was that I was never going to feel American: not even after another nine years, when I held the passport to prove otherwise. And worst of all, Hannah Montana was on the other side of the country.
My name is Farah Harb; I was born in Egypt, but I lived in Dubai until I was nine years old. My story as a Muslim-American began on January 23rd, 2009—the day I stepped out of O’Hare international Airport, and was mesmerized by the snow flakes and stung by the brutal weather. Yet, unfortunately, the frosty weather became the least of my worries. The bitter cold was replaced by bitter and disparaging classmates.
Starting fourth grade in the middle of the school year rendered to be, without exaggeration, the most difficult and draining transition of my life. I was a dark skinned, curly haired brunette, with shattered English, among a class full of white, straight haired blondes. I had never felt more out of place, and my classmates were intent on not allowing me to forget that. While at school, I had to train my tongue to bend and turn and produce words that were foreign to me; I had to let go of speaking a language that was home to me.
I began fighting a battle; I was isolated from both worlds. I was no longer completely Egyptian, but I wasn’t “American” enough, either. That realization led me to quickly drown myself in “American culture”; I changed how I dressed, I straightened my hair, I wouldn’t tell people that I was from Egypt, and I spoke as little as possible as to not allow my voice to be heard. I silenced myself in the country that was founded upon freedom of speech. I spent years indulging myself in assimilation, which lead me to fight a deeper battle at home. My parents saw me stripping myself of my identity and it deeply saddened them. Years went by before I realized how empty I was becoming.
High school was when I really began to blossom. I became much prouder of my identity: religion, culture, and everything in between. Yet, the most important thing I unearthed was that I now belonged to a different group as well: I was a Muslim-American. I could cheer on Al-Ahli, the leading soccer team in Egypt, while also liking Justin Bieber, without feeling like I betrayed myself and my family. After becoming more confident in accepting myself and my religion, I became passionate about fighting for social justice; fighting to make sure that no one who comes here ever feels like an outsider. It is a reality that is all too familiar to me, and one that I want to fight to eradicate. I want to use my different perspectives and the unlimited resources here to, eventually, shape America into a nation that fits its name: United.
It has been taxing having to constantly defend my religion: it is burdensome to feel like you are representing a wide and diversified religion of 1.5 billion people, just by being you. It’s emotionally draining to constantly be on the lookout, hoping that the name attached to a crime isn’t that of a Muslim. Because if it is, you know you will be reading convoluted and hideous lies about your religion from people who do not even understand the basics of it. It becomes “revolutionary to just exist,” as a friend of mine told me.
What has also been difficult is convincing my conservative parents that I was no longer just an Egyptian, or just a Muslim, but I was now also part of this new world. They have come to understand it, for they, too, are trying to find themselves in a nation that doesn’t understand Arabic, doesn’t make koushary, and mainly watches “football” instead of the real football: soccer. My parents and I are beginning to learn that we are no longer isolated between two worlds, but we are now truly in the best of both worlds.