By: Nahi Nadra ’23 (she/her)
I have always felt a lot of unspoken pressure to be on my best behavior. I grew up speaking Arabic and English, and my family was, and often still is, the first Arab family that most people have ever met or interacted with in my small town of Denver, NC, located 20 miles north of Charlotte.
My family originates from the Middle East, specifically the Levant areas of Lebanon and Palestine. When I chose to attend Davidson College, I knew that I would still be close to home, but I was excited to attend a liberal arts college and meet people from across the country and the world. I remember being very nervous prior to orientation. I was named after my grandmother, and I have an Arabic name that confuses people, so I struggle with introducing myself. I was also anxious about explaining my ethnicity to others, which is usually the follow-up question I receive after I’ve introduced myself. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how open-minded students at Davidson were, and the effort that people put into saying my name correctly.
Throughout my life, I have often been met with microaggressions from students and teachers regarding my origin. A lot of people will remark that I don’t “look Arabic” because I have a lighter complexion. This comment always perplexes me because Arabs are one of the most diverse groups of people in the world. Our skin tones range from dark olive to porcelain white, and you will see every hair and eye color in the Middle East. I also get questions about my religion. I, along with the rest of my family, are practicing Roman Catholics. However, because people associate the word “Arab” with “Muslim” or use them interchangeably, I have been asked in the past when I “converted” to Christianity. When I get comments like this, I explain that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have always lived in the Middle East, and make up the Arab world.
Because of how the U.S. misrepresents Arabs in films, the news, and other forms of media, I had an identity crisis growing up. I often felt like I was trapped between two worlds. In school, I would try and fit in: I asked my mother to stop packing me Arabic food after kids complained that it smelled and looked weird, and I would hide the fact that I spoke a different language. I stopped responding to my parents in Arabic and started calling them “Mom” and “Dad” because calling them “Mama” and “Baba” was “embarrassing.” However, doing this hurt me. I wasn’t being true to myself, and when I was around other Arabs and my extended family, I felt guilty for pushing away my culture and heritage. Now, thanks to my parents, accepting friends, and other Arab Americans at Davidson, I feel at peace in my own skin, and I can’t wait to share Middle Eastern and North African customs, foods, and traditions with students at Davidson through MENASA. There are so many misconceptions and untold stories about Arab Americans, and I want to help break down barriers and introduce people to cultures they may not have experienced or understood before.
Nahi Nadra ’23 (she/her) is a Biology major from Denver, NC. Contact her at email@example.com