Being Arab is hard enough but being both Arab American is a double edged sword. Growing up in small town America was not the best environment for a muslim male. It was survival of the fittest amongst the cannibals. You were eaten alive if you didn’t fit the image of the all American boy. I born to Immigrant parents who decided to migrate to small mid-west that was known for its steel mills. I honestly never felt completely welcomed or accepted in Youngstown, Ohio. The schema was defined in two categories and that was black or white. There was no middle-eastern identity other what I learned from home or in the local mosque. The local mosque brought Arabs together and we made the most out of gatherings. Nonetheless the confidence we had in ourselves was little or belittled by neighboring bigots.
Small towns are not open to cultures different from their own. I was always explaining myself and beliefs daily. They did not understand my culture and frankly they didn’t want to either. People closed the door on me before it even opened. I was judged as soon as I said “My Name Is Ahmed”. That was a done deal for me at that point. Uttering my name opened a can of worms which invoked hatred and violence. School was not the kindest place but I did find solace with my neighboring friends.
I longed to find my roots and culture while growing up in this small town. The few Arabs that lived there were not the best of examples. A large majority of the few people available were ashamed of their background and disowned their culture in front of non-arabs. The half of the time arabs are the worse of people. They were proud and obnoxious in front of other Arabs but shameful towards others. The few Arab friends that I did have lived distant from me or went to different schools. It was extremely difficult to explore our culture without any resources.
I eventually moved to New York City after high school to immerse myself in an Arabic lifestyle. New york was my outlet to explore different food, clothes, music and languages. The arabic culture has soo much to offer due to its rich origins. Arabs from different nations have different customs and accents which enlightened me. I meet new people from different walks of life and for once I was accepted. Or for the moment that’s how it felt. Later on I realized that it was a curse that I was born in America.
Arabs that are born in America are not fully accepted by those who are not native born. Arabs from overseas have an idea that American born Arabs are not from the same tier or perhaps ill mannered compared to them. My life became the damned if you do or don’t scenarios. I had to double up my game in learning Arabic in order to speak it correctly but I was still ridiculed every time I spoke. My Arabic accent was too American and it did not appeal to Natural born Middle Easterners. I had to watch my manners and how I carried my self in public drastically. If any mistake was made on my behalf, people would say “he does not know better as he was born in America”.
There was no resolution in trying to gain acceptance with my peers. Arabs do not like me because I was born in America and Americans do not like me because I am Arab. I was destined to lose no matter how hard I tried. This stigma made me weak and honestly depressed. Overtime, I eventually meet more like-minded people and came to the realization that not everyone was the same. I seen a lot of negative people in my life but the vast majority were kind/good hearted. I know now not to let anyone deprive me of my culture and or make me feel worthless because of it. I learned from my mistakes as an individual and finally realized my self worth. I am an American, I am an Arab and you can’t take that away from me.
Written by A.K. Maleeke