Finding My Syrian-American Identity
by Hajar Abdul-Rahim
My father always said, "You don't understand the price of freedom." But I do know I understand the price of being robbed of my right to grow up around grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I know the price of growing up nation-less. The price of having no national identity. The cost of not knowing who I am or where I am from.
I am the daughter of a mother wanted for execution in Syria for simply owning a dream to think freely, and of a father who would not bow to the country's criminal silence. They escaped in 1980, reunited in Jordan, moved to Iraq, United States, Canada, then once again back to the United States. They stamped each country with the birth of a child, clinging to their dream of returning to Syria. I was born in Montreal, Canada.
As a child, I was Syrian. But as a teenager, I was lost. In America, I wasn't American. On my two visits to Syria, I wasn't Syrian. I couldn't own pride to a country that stripped my mother and father from the right to live or the right to return. I didn't understand the fear, the silence, the poverty, or why my grandfather hung a two foot portrait of the President Hafez Assad right above his television. When my 13 year old cousin pointed his finger at me and accused his uncle, my father, for being too much of an arrogant doctor in America to even pay a small visit to his family in Syria, I opened my mouth to unleash my rage only to find my grandfather's strong palm glue itself to my lips.
At 24, after I completed graduate school, still without an identity or nationality to boast, I decided that I would embrace the identity of being an "American," and accept my Syrian heritage as something that belonged to my parents, something of the past. I slowly erased that image from my memory.
After the revolution in Tunisia dominoed its way to Syria, and peaceful protestors were instantly captured, detained, and had their hearts foam out of their mouths, I didn't understand why my mother and father were depriving themselves of sleep at night. I was offended that when I flew across the country to visit them over the holidays, they were not emotionally with me as we sipped our nightly tea. They were glued to their computer screen at home, signed into Skype, talking, arranging, organizing, doing anything and everything within their human power to help the people of Syria. They even traveled to Turkey and lived with 8,000 Syrian refugees in Antakya for one month as an in-house doctor and emotional supporter sleeping in their tents and using their overcrowded toilets.
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