I live in a town where there are few Arabs, let alone minorities. The demographics of my school are similar. I speak English at home, I speak English at school, and I even speak English at the mosque.
My mother and father speak Arabic fluently, but I do not. I wish there was more emphasis on speaking Arabic at home, but there isn’t. I can’t blame my parents because it also comes down to my siblings and me. We should have listened when years ago, my parents would encourage us to speak Arabic to one another. It seems like they slowly gave up and now conversations at the dinner table are almost entirely in English.
At school, it’s the same story. Though there are some other Arabs at my college, we greet each other in English and do not hold conversations with one another in Arabic. I feel like I’m slowly becoming more and more disconnected from my Arab roots.
I know that I could be making a greater effort to speak Arabic more and change the way things are currently. I have tried, but it is so difficult to speak Arabic consistently when I’m used to speaking English all the time.
It’s not just me; many other second-generation Americans are facing similar dilemmas. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that second-generation Americans are much more likely than their parents to speak English. When you parent’s homeland feels so distant, you embrace your American culture more.
It’s a difficult challenge trying to balance embracing your roots while simultaneously attempting to fit into the society you have grown up in. This struggle reminds me of the words of Ijeoma Umebinyuo, a Nigerian born poet and author. In one of her poems she eloquently wrote:
So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.
Often I feel like I am too American to be Arab, but then sometimes I feel like I’m not American enough. I want to develop a stronger appreciation for the Arabic language, but it is difficult when there is little encouragement from the people around you.
Additionally, there are so many benefits to being bilingual. Speaking two languages has benefits like increasing mental development and helping with concentration and multitasking skills. Not only does being bilingual allow you to connect well with others, but it also puts you at an advantage in the job market.
Assimilation occurs in many ways, but I don’t believe anyone should compromise their language to fit in more. If you speak two or more languages well, never ever let go of that.
I wish I could have said this to my younger self before I started to let Arabic slip away from me.