Arab Community Day as an Arab-American Teen 

Being a first-generation Arab immigrant, I grew up with the belief that I was never good enough. My language was often criticized, when I tried to speak Arabic and connect with my culture I was often told: “just speak English instead” or “don’t talk in Arabic”. Because of this scrutiny, I never excelled in speaking Arabic. I grew distant from my culture for this reason. I was too “whitewashed” and Americanized for my Arab culture but still didn’t fit into the traditional American standard. I was stuck somewhere in the middle. Sometimes my parents would point out my American mannerisms. My parents also skipped teaching me certain aspects of my culture such as belly dancing or Dabke that could have given me a connection similar to language. Whenever I questioned my lack of cultural immersion my mother’s reason was often “It’s different here” and I grew to accept that answer. When I was in elementary and even middle school, I always received snarky comments from others about my Arab genetics. I didn’t fit the beauty standard. I was once again stuck in the middle: “too Arab” for my white classmates and “too American” for my Arab culture. In an effort to ease some of the comments, I would beg my mother often to let me shave or wax my arms or upper lip. In a way I just drifted away from both into a gray area, I couldn’t identify with either group so that was the end of it. 

Families gathered at Arab Community Day

On July 24th, Al-Bustan hosted an Arab Community Day at Penn Treaty Park. Despite working the event I still greatly enjoyed it. I had the opportunity to talk to other Arabs and practice my Arabic without being judged about pronunciation and grammar. They appreciated my effort to connect with them. I truly felt at home for once within my culture. I felt like I could identify with my Arab culture surrounded by these people. They often would come up to me to point out my Arab features and to ask if I knew Arabic. They would ask about the organization and expressed how grateful they were for this event. At one point in the event, I noticed one of my mother’s old friends and she greeted me with open arms saying she was proud of me working for an organization like Al-Bustan and that I had grown so much. The people at the event were glad to see their young children interacting with their culture and other children from the same background as them from around the city. Whenever I saw the joy of the young children when running to the craft table or bouncy house, I felt glad. I was happy they could be comfortable at an event meant to celebrate their culture and enjoy themselves fully, which was something I wish I could have had when I was growing up. 

Children and Adults enjoying our craft table

I will admit sometimes I still don’t love the way I look because of my Arab features and my connection to American culture. I hope that there will be a time where ethnic features are more embraced in American society. Events like Arab Community Day allowed me to have a space to connect with my culture in a capacity I have never had before. I believe that Al-Bustan has done a great job advocating for Arab culture and providing spaces for Arabs to connect to their culture. My experience here so far has affirmed my Arab identity and I hope that this organization can help others within the community feel accepted in every aspect of their identity, both American and Arab.  

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