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It took me a long time to understand the feeling I’ve had since I was a child—that feeling of always having my nose pressed to the glass, of being an opposite current in the flow of life around me. This nagging sense constantly made me question my identity and self-worth as a Middle Eastern immersed in Western culture. Although I grew up in the Middle East, I attended American schools all my life, exposing me to the Western lifestyle. The two regions—having prolonged political disputes and deviating ideals—did not exactly help my case.
My pale complexion, light-colored eyes, and petite figure did not fit the traditional features of Middle Eastern beauty. The question of “where I was from” progressively started to become a fearful discussion. While living in Dubai, I hesitated to reveal my Middle Eastern heritage due to judgements on my striking American accent and unconservative fashion sense. I was the black sheep in a field of identical white sheep. My diversity was frowned upon by my own kind, leaving me abandoned by the farmers that nurtured me. Although I loved being Middle Eastern and indulged in the food, music, and language, I knew one thing for certain: it did not love me.
How to be invisible, how to stay invisible. A phrase which I was reminded of every time I attended annual family reunions. My outspoken, open-minded sense of living had to be drastically suppressed around my family. As I walked into my Teta’s—my grandmother’s—home, I instantly felt under attack. It was not long until the first round of predators—my own relatives—began their strike. “What are you wearing!” “Do you think you are American?” “Can you even speak Arabic?” I tried to ignore the voices, but every attempt to defend myself felt as though I was wading through molasses, each step an effort.
I once overheard my Teta speaking with her acquaintances, addressing questions about who I was. She would say, “Oh she is just one of your cousin’s friends,” effectively ignoring my existence and the fact that I am her only granddaughter. Her traditional Muslim views did not agree with my urbane attitude and her rejection became an emotional wound that remains with me forever. I was the prey, the weakling, hunted by my fellow herd.
The mental blockade between my culture and identity heightened at a rapid rate. Throughout the years, I felt more detached from my origins. The emphasis that was put on my appearance from such a young age developed into a bubble that consumed me and isolated my intelligence, individuality, and genuine nature from the rest of the world. I lived through my adolescent years thinking that my appearance determined my self-worth, always conscious of how I appeared to people’s eyes.
I refused to let these cultural expectations hinder my ability to achieve my goals. My love of connecting with others inspires me to become the first female doctor in my family, an occupation that is male-dominated in Middle Eastern society. Throughout my high school years, I unmasked the world, discovering the rapidly changing environment in which we reside. From receiving CPR training in Florida to volunteering to paint nurseries in Thailand, I took a piece from each experience as my very own. I became a global citizen with no boundaries or expectations. Moving from ocean-to-ocean and continent-to-continent ultimately healed me. The barrier of white sheep which once enclosed my confidence soon vanished, and my array of peculiarities radiated.
This reborn black sheep was robust—she was influential, and she was driven by motivation. Her value was hidden in her differences, and her mind was just as complex as her racially ambiguous features. The stigma of her scars had grown into a resistant new layer of skin that she found comfort within. This black sheep was me.