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Where do I belong?
I am Egyptian, born but not bred. It’s in my blood, in my complexion, in the brownness of my eyes, in the kink of my hair. It’s in the obvious foreignness of my last name, in the lilt of accent compared to those from Palestine or Syria, in my defensiveness over the abysmal state of my country. It’s in the Allah-Hu- Akbar plaque that adorns my door way, in my mom’s cooking, in the Eid prayers that comfort me. It’s the old man who says Assalamualikum to me in the street, the old lady with the headscarf that reminds me of my grandmother, it’s my dad reminding us to pray, in the Eid money I look forward to. It’s in everything and it’s everywhere – and I cannot escape it.
I am Canadian, bred but not born. It’s in my values, my mind, and my perspective. It’s in my blatant support for LGBTQ people, for the religious rights of others, for the reproductive rights of women. It’s in my persistence in making my brother help with housework, in telling my sisters that they are more than their ability to cook, it’s in my longing to move out, to go to clubbing with my friends. It’s in my shock at seeing my aunts treated like maids even though they work too. It’s in my love for Christmas music, in my anticipation for Halloween and Thanksgiving turkey, in my love for skating, my long standing tradition of beavertails and hockey games. It’s in my secret Santa exchanges, and my prom obsession. It’s in everything and it’s everywhere and I cannot escape it.
On a good day, I feel like I have two countries, two groups of people who are very different yet both understand me. I feel like I belong and that I will always have a home.
On other days, I am not so lucky.
I am shopping at Forever 21 and a throwback song from when we were 12 comes on and my best friend and I know all the words. In that moment we are 12 years old and there is no difference between us, despite the obvious physical ones. We reminisce about how lame we were, how we could’ve ever possibly thought that tank tops over t-shirts and bell bottom pants paired with a cheap pink hair extension was ever a good look. In that moment we are one and the same and I feel perfectly at home.
I am having dinner with my friends and someone mentions how she and her mom have drinks in their hot tub, have long heart to hearts and how one day they plan on getting matching tattoos. Another one chimes in with how her mom let her have an adult bracelet on their trip to Cuba so that she could get drinks. A third mentions how her mom has been pestering her to have her long term boyfriend over for dinner so that the family can get to know him, and in that moment I have never felt more alone. Because my mom would never get a matching tattoo with me, let alone go for drinks in a bar. My parents would be dismayed to find out I had a long term boyfriend and they would never ask him over for dinner. It’s in these moments where I feel like I am alone in my differentness and that no one understands. Maybe I just have friends with easy going parents but its moments like these where I am painfully aware of our differences and I feel completely out of place.
On most days I like that I am an Egyptian-Canadian, it gives me a wider perspective, if have two cultures rather than one. However, on other days I am ashamed to admit that I wish I was either on or the other.
It’s not my parent’s fault that they don’t really understand; they didn’t grow up here so how can they be in on all the cultural practices? Most of my friends only have to deal with a generational gap between them and their parents but I have to deal with that, plus a cultural one as well. My parents didn’t understand my persistence to have sleepovers, to wear bikinis, and to go to dances, because they didn’t have those options when they were younger. Everything was a battle where I had to justify why I wanted things. They weren’t being malicious. They wanted to protect me; they had never been to a dance or a sleepover so how could they know that it would be safe for me?
Sometimes it feels like I’m standing in no man’s land, and there’s a tug of war inside me because I don’t know where I belong. When I go to Egypt I am a foreigner because of how I dress, how I talk, and the things I believe in. In Canada I am a foreigner because of the way I look, and the religion that I practice. I don’t belong anywhere. There is no going home for me, because I’m not sure where that would even be.
I am lucky though. I am surrounded by friends who love me for who I am, I go to a school where diversity is celebrated and multicultural events are a staple. I live in a community where I am allowed and encouraged to practice my religion. Most importantly, my parents, despite our differences, love me, support me and they always have my back.
On a good day, I feel like I have two countries, two groups of people who are very different, yet both understand me. I feel like I belong and that I will always have a home.
On other days, I am not so lucky.
Asmaa is a history nerd, politics nerd, and has a soft spot for all things Harry Potter. She is a feminist, a muslim, an Egyptian-Canadian and an advocate of Muslim reform.