I sent a message to some of the people in our church and I thought I would share it a little more widely (and expound further).
I don’t keep a very good record of when I’ve been insulted, but when I read this story about a teacher’s hateful message to her Muslim student, something stirred in my mind. After all, I’m confused for a Muslim all the time. And to be honest, my recent beard doesn’t help matters very much.
As some of you know, I grew up in Lebanon County. My parents emigrated from Egypt in the early 1980s. If you’ve ever been to rural Pennsylvania, it won’t surprise you to hear that as the cumin-scented family with an accent we were fish out of water. I think we were among the only Egyptians in the county.
Even though I did not go to the most white-washed high school, it was decidedly not full of Egyptians. Right after Sept. 11, someone likened my appearance to Osama bin Laden. And it wasn’t a joke; they were being serious.
I remember someone asking me if my family lived in a pyramid (almost too comical to be insulting)! I think they were making a joke, but it was an extraordinary joke.
Several high school students used vulgar epithets to describe me (message me if you must know the exact phrase). That was pretty common, and at the time I didn’t really know how much it hurt me. But I reacted to it. In fact, I went to pretty great lengths to assimilate into American culture. I was embarrassed of my late-grandmother’s broken English (read: nonexistent English), or how she and my mom would speak in Arabic at the mall. I was embarrassed of our food, culture, and uniqueness. I just wanted to be “normal.”
And it wasn’t just shame that made me feel like an outsider. I still remember being accused for “criminal mischief” as I was walking around the employee parking lot of Hersheypark waiting for my ride (the officer thought I had to be up to no good). My friends and I were into cars, but we couldn’t drive. So in the evening while we waited to get picked up, we would walk around the parking lot looking at the cars and talking about them. Totally innocent. Until the power-tripping security guard threatened to report me to the Derry Township Police if he caught me looking around the parking lot again.
Another time, when I accompanied my friends to a local convenience store the attendant asked me to leave the store if I wasn’t going to buy anything because he didn’t want to have to accuse me of shoplifting (I told him, he should leave me alone if he didn’t want to be accused of discrimination). It’s hard to walk into a store and get accused of theft (or close to it) just because I decided not to buy something. It’s worrisome.
I tell you these stories because they are the reality for some people in the United States. A lot of other immigrants experience the same trouble. I know some of them. They are afraid, too. People are nervous that the election will spell out a grim future for them.
The world is full of hatred, and a cloud of suspicion looms over us. The youngest generation is ready to empower Trump to save them. It’s a dark time.
Jesus helped me overcome my fear and overcome the true hatred that me and my family experienced. We really did have the wrong skin color, the wrong last name, and lived in the wrong county. The prejudice against us has deeply impacted our lives even beyond these stories. But Jesus broke through my fear and broke through the hatred. Circle of Hope was instrumental for me to feel and experience that. The people in it were the light in that darkness, and they were the light for me. Honestly, they showed me Jesus in a new way and love for “where I was at” and for who God had made me. I’ve rarely felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong, and wasn’t loved. Often times, the very diversity that I brought was praised and embraced! They helped make the region inclusive to me. And I am grateful for it.
I think a lot of people in the United States and otherwise need a place to hear stories of truth and love. Ones that pierce through the darkness and the evil. Can you share some? How else can we bring hope to a hopeless world?