By Emily Ibrahim
“I just need to go over it with the straightener one more time.” Every morning before going to school I woke up a little earlier to make sure my awkward, frizzy curls disappear. Therefore, in the masses of high school students which I had been surrounded by, my features were in no way distinctive from the girls who sat around me in History or any other class for that matter. One of the first accomplishments of high school, ordinarily, is to blend in and make friends but for those who come from richly diverse backgrounds such as myself, this comes at a price.
This is not a complete loss because it meant I didn’t have to eat lunch alone. I rarely had slurs yelled at me and I let my personality speak for itself without perpetuating stereotypes hanging heavy above my head. For years, I strategically separated my school life from my family life. Intervening at every point where someone could possibly meet my parents or virtually see me as a different person hiding all of this culture by practically shoving it under a carpet. It was almost too late for me before realizing my mistakes.
It began with forgetting small words and structure rules in Arabic and eventually led to me having difficulty communicating with my family in the middle east. I had traded one for the other. As I realized this, regret flooded my body and the full extent of what I had done rushed to the surface. I not only stopped connecting with my family and culture but also erased all my experience that came with it. The very events that meticulously structured and molded my attributes, values, and dreams were disappearing. While it took time to recover, I managed to bring back the parts of myself I so dearly missed. My parents also developed a change in attitude as I communicated with them more often. We related to each other through our cultural challenges. Although our struggles differed, the roots of them intertwined us. Later, I began to find ways to educate people about my culture and break down stereotypes.
Recovering from my mistakes was not the most difficult part. It was coming to terms with myself and opening up about all the things I had kept locked up and hidden. It’s a wonder to see so much unfold at once after years were spent harboring them as secrets, trying to see how far down they can be buried. Admitting my failure when it came to my family values and strengthening my culture was the most arduous part of the process. When I allowed myself to adjust to the truth and let my friends enter the world I had kept separate for so long, it was a nerve wracking yet extremely rewarding experience, freeing even. You don’t realize you’re in a trap until you’re out. Not to imply that I didn’t receive any backlash but it paled in comparison to what I had regained. Although I haven't fully accepted my curls yet, I think I will in time. In the meantime, I've learned to never let anything interfere with who I am or my heritage. So with that I heavily express, “Never hide your culture out of social pressure to fit in or out of concern for the remarks or stares you might get for embracing who you are.”