By Sabreen Alfadel
My life used to feel like an intense game of balance that usually resulted in confusion and frustration – much of which, I’ll admit, stemmed from an inability to balance my two cultural identities. Having grown up all my life in Jordan with an Arab father and a Mexican mother, I have always been hyper-aware of my two cultures, and the two religions that conveniently came packaged with them. Growing up, it seemed inevitable that I would either have to choose between both of my realities or come to terms with the fact that I will constantly remain stuck in-between them. You see, each identity felt worlds apart from one another – so much so that I deemed it impossible to find common ground between them or even a satisfactory sense of belonging in my countless attempts at merging them together.
After graduating high school in Jordan, I made the daunting but exciting step of moving to Chicago to pursue my undergraduate career, and also reunite with my Mom’s side of the family living here. It wasn’t until this move (only five years ago) that I was able to embrace these identities through an entirely different lens, but even more urgently, realize that I don’t need to choose between my Arab identity or Mexican identity, my Islamic identity or Catholic identity. What didn’t occur to me all along was that my constant desperation at merging my identities or choosing between them only pushed me away from embracing them as is. Ironically, it took an entire 12-hour flight and now constant 8-hour time difference from Jordan to Chicago for me to realize that I am truly blessed to hold the perspective of two completely different world views, and with that, I can find home everywhere I go.
To me, home is more than just a person or a feeling. Home is a taste and a smell that can travel from across the sea or be found in a local grocery market just down the street. Every now and then, I will take a bite from a falafel sandwich and let the khubuz arabi, or Arabic bread, take me back to Jordan’s streets all the way from Chicago. The warm taste is a steady reminder of my father who would excitedly bring back home fresh fatayer or similar Arabic sandwiches and desserts. Other times, I will take in the smell of fresh tortillas burning on the stove alongside pico de gallo or other homemade salsas, and in that instant, I will be transported right next to my mother.
While I am still on an ever-growing spiritual journey, the fact of the matter is that I will never fail to smile when I hear Arabic being spoken on the train. I’m finally realizing that being a part of multiple cultural identities is cool more than it is frustrating – honestly, I never would have imagined getting so many wide-eyed, open-mouthed “that is so cool” reactions whenever I mention where I’m from. This is a reaction that I give myself now because sometimes self-discovery isn’t about finding an answer, but about embracing the journey for what it is, and learning more about yourself in the process.