The Trials of a Modern American-Palestinian Mother
Today I send my daughter away to college to study in France- but my heart is heavy with worry at what she may face on her return back home. For my own mother motherhood is a spiritual calling- of loving, giving and nurturing- to prepare her children adequately for independence and self- reliance. But for myself, motherhood is more complex, nuanced and fraught with many challenges. My mothers’ role, while still difficult considering her historical Palestinian experience, was simple compared to what I am faced with today as an American Palestinian mother.
American Palestinians mirror America’s social and cultural perspective, traditions, values and history; nonetheless we are rooted in our ancestral cultural beliefs as women of Palestinian Arab origin. Fully embracing our American identity while aware our ”mother” experience is shaped by our historical, cultural and social experience. We cherish our role as active, involved mothers while balancing our independence, work, community activism, and our right to self-expression. We are professionals, entrepreneurs, employed or employers, sole providers, housewives, divorced, widowed or separated. We are independent, strong advocates of gender equity and whole- heartedly enjoy our role as mothers and active members of our community.
While we have adapted and adopted our role as American and Palestinian mothers, our motherhood is constructed on the inescapable political experience and day- to -day realities we daily face as American women of Palestinian decent. We cannot help but be shaped by our own unique American experience, and our collective and exclusive history of enduring a host of stereotypical biases.
We are mindful of the common shared American misconceptions of Arabs and Arab Americans; as well as the commonly shared biases and denials of our Palestinian history. Add Insult to injury since 9/11 (September 2001) whether Muslim or Christian we are thrashed around with our country’s possessed obsession with Islam and Muslims (regardless of our faith or belief).
Our American experience is based on our familiarity with our country’s general acceptance of common intrusions on our basic fundamental rights as American citizens. These are manifested by our community’s interactions with US law enforcement agencies- federal and local. Many of us face FBI agents calling to inquire of our children’s whereabouts, their daily activities, affiliations, allegiance to the US and their faith practices- assumed rights protected by our constitution and enjoyed by most Americans but for our children.
Our family ideals are similar to most forward looking and globally minded American families. We teach our children to embrace their identity as Americans endowed with constitutional privileges and protections. We encourage them to become active members in their school and college; advocate for equity and social justice; enjoy and appreciate diversity and multiculturalism; and demand they learn Arabic as well as other languages-
But when they do we worry that Homeland Security agents will soon come knocking on our doors with the usual anticipated inquiries. What clubs do they belong to? Who are their friends? Will and who will they vote for? What charities do they give to? What is their faith? Do they pray, where and how often? Where and why did they travel? Who did they visit while abroad? Do they speak other than English? What websites do they surf or music they play? And most confounding is when they are asked who amongst their acquaintance may have been associated with a person deemed objectionable by our law enforcement authorities- or may happen to be a friend of an objectionable person- as if that is a question that can possibly be answered by anyone.
In the past we knew our role and purpose. We ensured the success of our children by loving them with all our being; protecting and providing for them; and instilling the love of learning in their deepest core. But this is not sufficient today. In light of the social biases our children are facing our past practices will not guarantee them the expectations we once assumed are an assured promise. We worry that our children today are faced with a social system intent on discriminating and shunning them from becoming productive contributing citizens. We fear their ancestral roots; background and origin are used as tools to unfairly disadvantage them.
We raise our children to become loving productive enlightened citizens; but unfortunately we are without a guide to help our children navigate the many challenges they will likely face. How are we to teach them to adapt and thrive in the current difficult situation? How are we to protect them from internalizing the biases they experience? How are we to ensure they are not helpless victims of a national tragedy they had no part of- where many were still young to remember or were not even born then to fully comprehend its weight? How are we to support them in face of a system that perpetuates their collective social and cultural exclusion?
So, while we understand letting go of our children is the most loving act we dutifully prepare for, we cannot help fear the social constraints and biases that our children may face as young adults- here at home as we watch our country overcome with fear and loathing.
So we draw on our past to guide us. Like our mothers before us we join hands with others and call for ending all forms of discrimination irrespective of creed, faith and race. We actively work to bridge the divide, heal the deep wounds of our shared national tragedies, educate and inform our community and country. We are collectively resolved to use the same ideals that attracted us to this country. To that end we keep the proposition that all Americans are created equal in our children’s hearts alive- a promise enshrined 236 years in our Declaration of Independence. We refuse to accept the denial of any child or adult equality of opportunity because of faith, belief, orientation or their mothers’ ancestral roots.
Meanwhile we continue to teach our daughters to embrace their special attributes their gender offers them. Emphasize their organic positive qualities that emote nurturing, caring, collaboration; connectedness to others; and make sure they are fully aware of their innate power as social transformative agents as sisters, mothers, wives, aunts, nieces and community members.
We teach our sons to become loving fathers, brothers, husbands and friends, enlightened, and active productive citizens. We teach all of our children to love their country and embrace their Palestinian heritage. We teach them to trust our common shared humanity; respect people of all faiths and creed, embrace the world and its diversity; travel across every continent (and never mind the current absurd consequences); have the latitude to forgive and forgive again; embed in them respect of family and community, seek knowledge and truth from cradle to grave and share what they learn; improve their lot and generously give to those in need; maintain the faith in the common good in each of us mortal humans- and above all expect and work for a better day to come.
Meanwhile, my Salam “peace” spread it wherever you may go; enjoy the good in every experience life offers you; and without reserve, learn, share, grow to your full potential and thrive.
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A Palestinian American living in Washington D.C. an organizer, activist, writer and speaker. Mai founded American Palestinian Women's Association, has organized humanitarian relief programs, to aid Palestinians as well as homeless women and children in the Washington, DC area and serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations. Mai is a Doctorate student at Howard University's School of Education, Educational Policy and Administration program in that capacity she has published several articles related to educational policy and the state of education in the District of Columbia. As a United Nations consultant, she assisted in developing short and long-term strategies for Birzeit University in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. She developed the fundraising document "Creating a World of Possibilities & Building a Future of Hope" and produced a Johns Hopkins University Documentary "Arab Women Speak Out". Mai hosted and produced "Spotlight on Education" a local television program that addressed school policies, social and economic issues that impact school aged children, families, teachers and administrators in the District of Columbia."