Razan Mikdashi: Lebanese-American Grown

Is a recipient of the 2018-2019 MALA Scholarship Program.  In accordance with MALA’s mission, this program awards scholarships to individuals demonstrate ambition, integrity, and leadership through the art of storytelling. To learn more about MALA’s Scholarship opportunities, click here.

I remember my mother clenching her jaw as she accepted primitive condolences when announcing she was having not a first, nor a second, but a third daughter.

I remember my mother slamming her iPhone on our living room table after conversing with my aunt, who urged her not to “waste money on girls” and remove my sisters and me from private school.

These memories, defined by a child’s incomplete understanding of her parents’ culture, drive my ambitions to offer restitution on my parents’ sacrifices. Moving to the United States from Lebanon in 1996, my mother and father created distance–both physical and cultural–between the restrictive Middle-Eastern mindset and the progressive American values.

Fearing that their daughters might entirely reject the culture they inherited, my parents made selective choices about what aspects of Lebanese culture to showcase. The 3-hour Arabic lessons I attended every Saturday for seven years embedded within me the lyricism and richness of the Arabic language, while the manoushe my father packed for lunch replenished my pallet with the refreshing taste of the Mediterranean. Still, there were some traditional Middle-Eastern practices I had to discover on my own. Sunday mornings always began behind closed doors, on the phone, between my mother and my grandmother. A change in my mother’s intonation would propel me out of bed and onto the investigation game my sisters and I played. As we continued to pick up on these small hints over the years, we collected enough information to piece the story together: the Lebanese culture we grew up idolizing was, in fact, not as open as my mother and father made it seem.

My first cousin’s decision to stay with her abusive husband and give him a “second chance,” was, in truth, a decision based on Middle-Eastern divorce laws that consistently disadvantage women. Deciding to raise my sisters and me free of these discriminatory practices here in America, my parents focused on nurturing a fierce sense of independence within us. Ever since we were little, they dared us to dream big. Their constant challenging taught me to never see anything as a weakness, but always as a strength. As we grew older, however, my parents realized that our future growth as strong and independent women was impossible without the full story. Drawing our investigation game to an end, my parents began to confide in us, coming forward with the realities of certain Lebanese cultural mores.

Only as they revealed more through time, was I able to weigh the burden they carried, a self-imposed resolution to limit the prejudice we inherit from our culture. Even then, they spoke of the Lebanese people with respect, ensuring our understanding that a culture does not define a person, ensuring our ihteeram. Becoming more aware of the distinction between my cultural and personal identity, I began to understand how their coexistence has defined me. Although my cultural identity brings my attention to certain issues and influences my perspective, it is my personal identity that defines my actions.

Through my mother and father’s stories, I empathize with women who have come forward as victims of domestic violence. Recognizing a similar reality here in the U.S., I took action by creating Project Bond, a self-defense training program that empowers high school girls in my community, both physically and mentally. As I embark on this next phase in my life, I choose to study business, a field long dominated by men.

Beyond my passion for understanding the principles that transform exciting visions into a reality, my motivation in entering this field is rooted in my cultural background. With a thirst for knowledge, a commitment to resilience and an eagerness for change, my determination to forge a new path for Arab women fuels my journey.