There is a very powerful inner, almost subconscious and visceral, dialogue that takes place when you find yourself an immigrant trying to make it in a new place. I am going to explain this “dialogue” from my perspective as an Arab/Muslim/immigrant although I have a feeling that much of what I’m about to share is felt by others who do not necessarily fall into my categories of otherness.
For many, the aforementioned dialogue is short lived and quickly fades away into occasional whispers. Often, the dialogue ends abruptly with a conclusion that is along the lines of “the hell with the rest, I am who I am and nothing will change me”. They end up with an almost antagonistic view of the majority.
.....I am an Arab.
.....This (insert non-Arab cultural practice) does not jive with my Arab culture.
.......being with “them” will make me forget who I am and I’ll become one of “them”.
Assimilation in this case is akin to conformation, or worse subjugation, and thus become a threatening thought. Insulation becomes a protective mechanism. Eventually everything revolves around this identity and when such identity is marginalized, it becomes the lens in which they view their new world.
.....That person was looking at me funny because of my accent
.....I am going to stick with my kind
.....I didn’t get that promotion because I am Arab
Many others, conclude the opposite from their own short lived inner dialogue. They overcompensate by complete immersion in the new majority culture and full detachment from the culture of their upbringing
....I want people to see beyond my Arabness.
....I want to be viewed as one of “them”.
....Maybe they’ll find my accent cool.
Their full on immersion and complete detachment also become protective mechanisms. They’re unable to bridge the two cultures and it is much easier to “go with the flow”
For some however this dialogue is constant and never fades away. They are, on the one hand, conscious of where they come from, and on the other, receptive to what they experience in their adopted environment. They are in a state of mind that is constantly trying to balance learning, adapting, adopting, modifying, building and rebuilding of new and old concepts. They are well aware of such state of mind and, for the most part, enjoy the growth that comes with straddling both worlds.
They are however exhausted by the self awareness that comes with striking, and the effort it takes to maintain, a balance. It is incredibly easy to slip into either of the camps discussed above and many times can even be justified.
.....did I not get that promotion because I am Arab?
.....is my accent really that thick for them not to understand what I am saying?
.....maybe I should change my name to Alex if I’m going to run for office.
This last mindset is, in my opinion, the most fragile yet most beneficial for a society.
Beneficial because they help challenge a society’s long held views and either reaffirm them as timeless or expose them as flawed/in need of attention. How we respond to such a challenge is a measure of the mettle of our society and whether or not we truly believe the slogans we throw around while thumping our chests and bellowing that we are the greatest nation on earth.
Fragile because a society can easily push them into one of the two camps thus losing on their contribution to society.
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark