It’s that question that all Muslims are used to hearing: Where are you from? And when I say “California,” without fail I get the follow up question, no, where are you from?
Sometimes people just make it simple and give me two options:
Are you from Syria or Lebanon?
Are you from Iraq or Iran?
Are you from Turkey or Albania?
And my answer is always “no.”
So I thought today, I would put an end to this question for once and all. (And, in the spirit of honesty, I am working on guest post for another site and didn’t have the time necessary to do the research I need to do for the post I had planned today, so I needed some filler content in the meantime!)
I am from California, United States of America. I was born and raised in the same small town for the first 18 years of my life, and my parents are from not that far away from that small town. I went to university three hours away from that town.
As far as my cultural heritage is concerned, I am mostly European. I know it is hard for the average American to believe, but this scarf on my head does not actually denote any Arabic heritage. My main background is Scots Irish, and I believe I have some English and German tossed into the mix too. I have ¼ Italian from my mom’s side, but my freckles and perpetually sunburnt skin would never let on to that, as much as I tried to convince people in high school that I was Italian.
The thing that really gets me, though, is the fact that it shouldn’t matter. No one is asking me where I am from out of sheer curiosity; they want to put me into a neat little box, or at least I have found this to be the case especially within the Muslim community. Oh, you are Algerian? So you must be X, Y, and Z. You are an American convert? So you are X, Y, and Z.
But really, I am not defined by my nationality or my cultural background. Yes, I love my heritage. And yes, there are some aspects of my personality that come straight from my American upbringing. But I also have elements of my personality that I have picked up in Europe or North Africa, and plenty of bits that are just pure ME.
All you really need to know, however, is that I am a Muslim.
Really, that should tell you all of the important stuff.
Any maybe, if everyone stopped being so hung up on where everyone else is from, and only hanging out with their own cultural cliques, and only going to the Arab mosque or the Nigerian mosque or the Pakistani mosque, and only eating their own cultural food, and only talking to people who speak the exact dialect that they do, there could be a lot more exchange, learning, and community within our so-called Muslim “community.”
Also, I am going to start a social experiment where I just say yes to wherever people assume I am from and see if they all figure it out! I am going to have to learn some better Arabic….