Whenever I meet new people, one of the first questions I’m met with after they ask me what my name is, is “what are you?” It’s gotten to the point where I’m able to turn the encounter into a game of sorts because no one can ever guess what my ethnicity is correctly and honestly it’s pretty entertaining to hear the different combinations people come up with. To be fair, Filipino and Palestinian isn’t exactly a common mix. Before you ask, yes, I know who Subhi Taha is and yes, I know we’re the same mix. Anyway, I digress.
Being a biracial Muslim American woman has been nothing short of a personal struggle, but I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened because alhamdulillah it’s helped me become the person I am today and the person I’m meant to be. Growing up, I was always made to feel that I wasn’t “Arab enough” or “Filipino enough” or “Muslim enough.” Add that to the fact that I went to Baptist and Catholic schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, I have no problem admitting that it took me a long time to figure out where I fit in. When I was younger, I lived on Guam and was around my mom’s side of the family that moved there from the Philippines for most of the time because my dad’s family is back in Amman. I never really thought anything of it, but in hindsight, it definitely turned religion into this giant enigma for me because I would constantly be surrounded by Islam and Catholicism and it definitely confused me as a child.
My life got slightly more confusing when my family moved to Hawaii when I was 7 because the Catholic school I went to was adamant about religion being a core class every year. All throughout elementary school and high school, whenever class veered towards Islam or Muslims, all of my friends would immediately turn to me because 1- they knew I had something to say, and 2- they were just as fed up with actual nun’s calling me a “Moslem” as I was. Moments like that made me realize that I was around people who not only accepted me but wanted my voice to be heard just as much as theirs.
Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that being mixed affected me much more growing up than being Muslim. I spent so much time trying to figure out who I was and how to identify myself culturally, that I didn’t think much about starting by identifying myself religiously instead. I wasn’t always the most religious person and I’ve had struggles with my iman, but everything was written for a reason and I can only be thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned along the way because they’ve helped me become who I am. Being mixed and Muslim and a woman presents its own set of challenges but I wouldn’t have it any other way; my faith allows me to embrace all parts of who I am and to take what I believe and channel it into everything I do. I’m beyond blessed to find myself in positions where being a young Muslim woman contributes to my ability to amplify my voice and prove stereotypes and prejudices about Muslims wrong.
Fast forward to now, I’m absolutely comfortable in my own skin and with who I am. I’ve stopped telling myself that I have to choose between being Filipino or being Palestinian and have decided to embrace both cultures at all times. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a place as diverse and accepting as Hawaii because it’s so common to meet other people that are mixed as well. I’ve accepted that I’m split at the root and I come from two different yet amazing cultures. The experiences I’ve had are inherently my own, but I find comfort in knowing that there are people who can relate to them and who care enough to ask me about them.
I’m proud of myself for overcoming the insecurities that I used to attach to being biracial. I used to think I was so weird for not being just one ethnicity because for a long time I was the only one in my class that was mixed. Granted, I’m still the only person in the room who’s half Filipino and half Palestinian, but the point is that I own it and say it confidently. I’m confident enough to tell people I’m Muslim because it’s harder for them to tell since I’m not a hijabi. I no longer shy away from talking about myself or my background or the countries I’m proud to call my motherlands. I think it’s crucial to have a type of space and place with people who know and understand the importance of everyone having the opportunity to share their thoughts and perspectives, especially if they’re part of the minority. Even now that I’m finishing up my senior year of college and double majoring in American Studies and Communications, I’m still surrounded by people who accept me and care about my unique perspectives. I’m forever grateful for all of the people in my life that I can be unapologetically myself around and have them accept me for the racially ambiguous and striving Muslim woman that I am.
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