identity


I have a every English sounding name and coupled with the whiteness of my skin, the blondness of my hair and Americanized accent I have always had a hard time asserting my Arabhood. This has been something that has plagued me since my childhood. I knew I was an Arab, and I knew I didn’t want to be mistook for an American, German, British, French…etc. person and having Sally as a name didn’t help. And so in my attempts at asserting my identity I have had a turbulent relationship with my name as it is the second thing people usually know about me after taking a look at me.

When I was younger I fantasized about changing my name to Salma. Why Salma? I am not a 100% sure. I think it might be that when I heard it I loved its ring? Maybe because it was connected to Abu Salma, a Palestinian poet who is also a relative and though I haven’t read his poetry (hangs head in shame), the name drew me. I love the name Salma so much that a few years ago I adopted a cat named Sally with a friend and it got so confusing that we named her Salma instead- and she took to the name beautifully.

But I didn’t change my name instead I consulted every dictionary and baby name book I could find and always looked up my name Sally to learn about it and understand it. I was only satisfied when I found out that my name has not only a Hebrew root, an Irish root, is used as a verb in English and has meaning in Arabic.

I was first clued to the Arabic meaning when people starting singing a Abdel Halim song to me in which he says “Walla Mana Sally yali Saletouni”. I’ve never really heard the full song but was so happy to hear my name in Arabic song and find the Arabic root to my name. And so my name comes from the Arabic word sala which means one of two things depending on context and derivation: To forget (something I do really well) and the other means to entertain (something I sometimes do well).

Today when someone comments on my name being an English name I am quick to add that it is an Arabic name too and has a beautifully appropriate meaning for my personality!

Advertisements

The other day my mother had a gathering. She invited her friends and sisters for some fun and entertainment. So the house was flooded by about 10 to 15 women. There was dancing, food, jokes and of course gossip and idle chit chat. Inevitably, at least one woman would come up to me and make that fateful comment. Talking to me about that dirty three letter word without saying it.

 

Throughout the years I have come across ever possible approach from these women. This includes the veiled compliments, the suggestions, the questions to the outright self important proclamations. They would be direct or indirect, they would be public or discreet, supportive or hostile… you name the approach and they’ve used it. The most common approach right now is marriage and how I should be focus on that and sure enough the comments about my figure would follow shortly.

 

That’s right you read correctly, they talk to me about being a bit FAT girl! Fat is a dirty word in our society, and by society I mean global society. It doesn’t matter where you hail from you need to be a size 4 or less. And what is worse here you have to have a skewed relationship with food. You make massive quantities of the most decadent dishes and deprive yourself of them. You have to be petite, tiny, slim-waisted and dainty so that you are an eligible young lady and prostitute yourself before these older women to find an eligible man and have a suitable life.

 

What is funny is none of these women have these figures they encourage me to have. These women do not have the life I want to lead, know nothing about me except from that sliver of interaction and yet they presumptuously think that I am unhappy in my skin! I wish it ends there too, at least there is a context in which these comments are made. I really don’t like it when strangers come up to me and tell me I have such a pretty face if only I would lose the weight, or a shop vendor or tailor makes that comment. And don’t you just love the people that try to push those magic weight loss products?! These people may think that they are doing me a service by telling me about my body and what is best for it. It’s as if they have a right to judge me solely by a number on a scale without knowing anything else about me.

 

I have been fat since I was a baby. To me being thin is being a size 14, I am tall, big, round, curvy and yes that dirty word we all try to avoid… FAT. And you know what I am not apologetic about it anymore, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t think I need to change and when one of these women comes up to me today or a stranger comes on the street says something my responses are along these lines: who gave you the right to talk about my body, excuse and what do you know about me to make that comment or very proudly I love my curves and they love me and they go everywhere I go!

 

When I was growing up I never thought of myself as fat despite being so, I was athletic and active and never really felt heavy. Yet the world around me made me feel such, but as I grew older I came to understand my body and respect it and demand what I could of it by taking care of it. Being healthy to me is more important that the number on the label. I was also adamant, from childhood, about people respecting me for my intellect, my personality and not my looks.

 

But it still took me a long time to come to terms with that dirty word and use it: fat. Fat is not acceptable to our world today, but fat I am and like I said to that woman and I will repeat it as often as necessary, I love my body, I love curves and I love my fat! If you have problem with fat then please take it elsewhere because this big fat girl loves herself enough to say enough.

This is being circulated around the web and came into my inbox. We need to be vocal we need to be visible we need to use logical rhetoric. I am reposting their email that calls all of us to action. View their work so far and see how you can help!

 

Thanks.

S.

 

Dear friends,


We are a group of Arab women from Jordan who have come together in
response to the vicious attacks by Israel on Gaza. Our aim is to spread awareness across the globe on the atrocities and encourage all responsible citizens to act in the name of humanity. Help us give voice to those who have been silenced by doing the following: 

 1. Visit our YouTube links and rate us positively!

We need your views so we can become the first Arab youtube clip to get onto the most viewed page
The YouTube clips address the following:
On the Humanitarian Situation

On Israel’s Violations of Humanitarian Law
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoiYvNuqw&NR=1

On the Media Spin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-8GqHL2J-I&feature=related

Our Call to Action
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAonLJHEuak

 

2. Forward this message to all your friends and encourage them to do the same! Make sure everyone you know watches these videos!

 3. Join our Facebook group and share our videos with your friends!

4.  Add our links on your website and/or blogs.

5.  View our Call to Action episode on You Tube on the 30th of January 2009 so that we may reach our goal of becoming the most viewed clip on YouTube so as to give the crisis in Gaza the exposure it desperately needs.

 

We need your support! Please help us! For more information, please
email at
voicesforpalestine@gmail.com

In solidarity,
Voices for Palestine
www.voicesforpalestine.com

 

One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.