Spread “Peace”, Learn, Grow, Share and Thrive

31 Aug

Today I send off my daughter away to college to study in France- but my heart is heavy with worry of what she may face on her return back home. For my mother- motherhood is a spiritual calling- of loving, giving and nurturing- to prepare her children become independent and self- reliant.  But for myself, motherhood is more complex, nuanced and fraught with many challenges. My mother’s role while still difficult considering her historical Palestinian experience, it 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 unique- shaped by our American cultural and social identities. 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 culturally shaped and constructed based on our inescapable political experience and day to day realities. 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 historical experience. 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 society at large and its general acceptance of the common abusive intrusions of our basic fundamental rights as American citizens. These are manifested by our community 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.

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-  these ideals are shared and promoted  by forward-looking and globally minded American families. 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 anyone can possibly answer this question.

While we understand letting go of our children is the most loving act we dutifully prepare for, we can not 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.

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. This recipe resulted in a large number of our children measurable success where many thrived as educated members of society, economically independent and effective contributors to their family and community. 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 work hard trying to raise our children to become loving productive enlightened citizens; 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?

Our mothers not long ago faced similar challenges as refugees in foreign lands. With steadfast resolve, principled ideals, and hard work they ploughed ahead determined to ensure the success of their children. They had strong faith that knowledge and education will help their children overcome oppression and discrimination. Our mothers understood they are effective tools for social change; they shared their stories, histories and traditions to dispel misunderstanding. They worked and collaborated with others on shared  communal challenges. They participated and established women’s unions and actively engaged with their community at large. Eventually they broke through the thick veil of mistrust and their efforts bear fruit. Our mothers made it possible for their children to forge ahead, graduate from college and become effective caring citizens of their birth countries.

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 and the reason we chose it. 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 raise our sons to become loving fathers, brothers, husbands and friends, enlightened, and active productive citizens. We will continue to teach all of our children to love their country and embrace their Palestinian heritage. We will 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.

Our worries we silently carry and hope that the absurdity of our situation and daily fears will be a distant memory for our young ones- collectively we pray God Willing soon this shall too pass. 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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