A buddy of mine asked me a pretty interesting question today. We were in the car with a couple of other friends and we had parked outside a masjid (prayer space) because one of them wanted to pray. While we were waiting for her to finish up I mentioned that I’d never been in one before because I’ve always just prayed at home instead. This sparked a short discussion from my friends about the occasions in which they had gone to a masjid or mosque, like during Eid or Ramadan. After a short pause, one of them asked me, almost randomly, “Do you consider yourself Arab?”
At first I wasn’t sure what he meant. I told him I was Lebanese, and thus yes, I am Arab. But he said, “No, I meant do you consider yourself an Arab? Do you see yourself as one?”
That gave me pause for thought. Believe it or not, no one’s ever asked me that before. I’ve said several times that I don’t feel particularly Lebanese, but I’d always taken my being Arab for granted…which is kind of odd considering that I’m always turning over ideas about the complications of my identity in my head.
Still, despite that, I found that it only took me a few seconds to state that, yes, I did identify as such and was proud to be one. I added that I was also definitely “westernized”, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t embrace my Arab culture and traditions. (My definition of westernized is being exposed to American or European culture from a young age and having it subconsciously incorporated into your identity/behavior as a person). I’m thankful and proud that I can speak and understand Arabic, even if I’m not as fluent as I’d like to be. I’m thankful that I was taught to read it, even if my current skill is only at an intermediate level. I’m proud to be part of a widespread ethnic group with a deep and rich history. The fact that there are so many Arab countries, and that each one has its own culture while also sharing many elements with its Arab neighbors, is pretty awesome. On the other hand, it’s also rather sad considering our countries tend to be in conflict with each other more than anything else. (But that’s a whole different story).
My friend added that Arabs raised outside tend to be very westernized and that those who have lived in the US or Canada for a generation or two tend to be more distant from their “Arab roots”. Thus, they become just another American or Canadian while being “Arab” becomes relatively meaningless. However, even if I’d lived in Canada or a similar country my whole life, I would still identify myself as Arab because the environment I was raised in was Arab. True, my family is modern and open-minded enough to take the best out of everything we’re exposed to, but we also have a strong connection to being Arab and Muslim without being remotely fanatical about it. It’s just who we are.
And for that I can only say, above all else, I’m extremely grateful. I feel more well-rounded and exposed to many more ideas than I think I could have ever been otherwise, while not sacrificing my connection to where I came from.
Question for Readers: What ethnicities or nationalities do you identify with? Is it easy for you to pinpoint who you are and where you’re from?