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An Open Letter To First-Generation Arabs Living In The West

An Open Letter To First-Generation Arabs Living In The West

An open letter to first-generation Arabs living in Western countries written to give an account of common struggles and potential solutions.

It’s comforting to know we’re never alone. To all the first-generation Arabs living in Western countries, here are some thoughts that I’m sure most, if not all, of us can relate to.

Born To Be Torn

There’s always a nagging feeling of inner conflict that us ‘Westernised’ Arabs have grappled with throughout the course of our lives. We’re torn between the values instilled in us at home by our immigrant families and the surrounding youth culture we’re exposed to on the daily. Prom is a foreign concept, sleepovers are a big fat no and dating is a plain myth. Not to mention the interrogation session that awaits us right before leaving the house, albeit it being a quick trip to the grocery store.

Curiosity is a part of our human nature, yet we feel deprived of that desire. We’ve led double lives – either by sneaking around, changing our clothes, altering our names or hiding our mulukhiyah or malfouf at lunch – all in an attempt to ‘fit in’ with the crowd. But even after maturing and bidding farewell to those many rebellious chapters, the identity struggle persists. We can do all the things a typical Western person would do, but we remain square pegs in round holes – a bunch of misfits.


Cultural Baggage

While we want to make our Arab families proud, we also crave the effortless assimilation into our Western surroundings. The monitoring and micromanagement we experience from our elders feel like mere obstacles to our lifestyles, and their failure to accommodate the cultural adaptations converts into culture baggage. This culture baggage we carry inevitably takes a toll on our mental health and is very often downplayed and disregarded by our immigrant families. Despite our frustrations and worries, we’re told to pray more, stay habitually grateful or that we’re stressing over nothing. From their perspective, our struggles seem very trivial compared to the sacrifices they have made.

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Embracing Dual Culture

Learning to accept and appreciate our roots becomes much easier when we acknowledge the sacrifices our families have made. Indeed, it is wise to stay grateful for the fact that our Arab parents took the risk to build a new life in an unfamiliar environment to help open the doors to countless opportunities in education, career development and overall quality of life. Visiting cultural centres, joining online forums and using social media platforms to identify with others just like us really cements the fact that we’re never alone. When we accept that this is a narrative that saturates numerous other cultures, too, we’re then able to preserve the connection to our heritage, embrace our culture, and integrate these customs into our everyday routine much more naturally.


Be That Success Story

By defining our strengths and priorities, we can transcend these cultural barriers and use them to our own advantage. We have a history to be proud of and can lead future generations towards a harmonious, progressive blend where we’re able to participate in multiple cultures and view things from a unique lens. We have the possibility to be mediators, educators, students and living examples of what it’s like to be the product of an immigrant Arab family living in the West, repelling all avenues of misinformation and overcoming the various negative stereotypes we frequently encounter. Ultimately, we have been given a special gift, which is the chance to create our own place of belonging and be a testament to a functional relationship between both heritage and place of residence.

What has your experience been like as a first-generation Arab living in a Western country? Tell us in the comments section below!

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