Born-again Palestinian: A tale of social and political awakening

Blog post
6 min read
11 March, 2022
Due to reductive and harmful notions of identity, Palestinian-Americans have either had to hide their diasporic pride, or assimilate to survive. Yet, as we find out through the story of Tariq Raouf, many have now awoken to political engagement.

When the world repeatedly tries to tell you that your country doesn’t exist, that your mere identity is a political statement, or that supporting your own people is an act of anti-Semitism, each of these instances become part of crushing weight, telling every bone in your body to break and give in to the pressures of erasing your identity and forgetting your roots.

For nearly thirty years of my life, I gave into that weight, and I erased every part of my Palestinian identity in an effort to fit in.

Today, thanks to the power of the collective Palestinian diaspora, I’m doing work to undo that.

"Where I was once crushed by the weight of the world telling me I didn’t belong, I am now lifted by the support I’m seeing everywhere"

My name is Tariq Raouf, but if you met me five years ago I would have said it was Kyle. That’s how far I went into erasing the Palestinian inside of me because I was so eager to fit in with my American friends.

Despite being raised by two Palestinian activists, one of whom co-founded the US Palestinian Community Network, I had absolutely no interest in being called Palestinian, fighting for our rights or learning our language. I was too angry

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Tariq Raouf (@tariq_raouf)

I remember when my father first told me about the plight of Palestine as a kid, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why fight over land? Why kill thousands of people to claim something? Why didn’t the world ever care that Israel was repeatedly breaking international law and committing war crimes?

Instead of the anger fuelling my activism, like my father, it fuelled an inner resentment for my identity. While other kids in my class could proudly show off their Irish, English or Chinese heritage, I was too scared to show off that I was part of a country no one else seemed to care about.

On top of this, I grew up knowing very early on that I was queer – something that I instinctively knew that my culture wouldn’t easily accept.

As a 12-year-old kid afraid of being 'too Arab' because of 9/11, 'too political' when identifying myself, and 'too gay' to be accepted by the heritage I already struggled to understand, the only answer was to run to what made me feel most welcome.

In the end, my queerness and my love for American culture allowed me to find myself and who I was meant to be. It gave me a space to accept a part of my identity that wasn’t questioned at every turn, freedom that my people still do not have today. I don’t regret running to what helped me find myself, but I do regret that I had to run away to do it.

There’s innate bravery to wearing your Palestinian heritage on your sleeve, because when you do that everything about you gets questioned.

Sharing your identity opens yourself up to a line of interrogation or commentary that will come whether or not they are welcome. “Don’t you mean Israel,” a customer once responded after he asked where my family was from and I told him Palestine. “Oof, I feel for your people,” said another. As if introducing myself was an invitation to question or comment on my heritage, like my existence was reason enough to talk about my trauma.

"Instead of feeling shame for being a part of the Palestinian diaspora, I feel strengthened and supported by it. This is why I have hope for Palestine, and why I know that it will never be forgotten, no matter how hard the world tries"

Once, a Jewish customer requested to work with someone else when I informed them of my heritage after she had asked, despite our interaction having been only transactional in nature, and me not saying anything at all other than “I’m Palestinian.”

You might see, then, why as a child I tried my hardest to avoid these confrontations. To a growing mind, these microaggressions have a lasting effect. I did not have the bravery to wear my identity on my sleeve, and because of my experiences, I’m still struggling to gather that bravery today.

I idolise those that are brave enough to shout their Palestinian heritage from the rooftops. People like my father, who has never been quiet in his advocation for Palestinian rights, or like the young Palestinians all over TikTok and Instagram constantly posting and fighting to be seen despite the algorithms that get their content shadow-banned or removed.

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Such is my struggle, and I know I’m not alone. For every proud Palestinian that you see there are likely countless others who are just like me, or just like where I used to be.

Meanwhile, I’m deleting my own tweets or second-guessing my advocacy for my heritage because I wonder if it’ll keep me from my dream job, or make people dislike me because they think I’m anti-Semetic. And if I do get accused of it because of my heritage, I have to overthink every word and syllable in my response because the last thing I want to do is offend another marginalised group or be seen as a fool. 

"Even after I tried to erase myself, Palestine has still called me back"

Hiding their heritage, angry at their ancestors, and afraid to show up for themselves just to be liked by the vast majority. But in rediscovering my roots, I’m realising the power of the Palestinian diaspora is greater than anyone has ever known, because even after I tried to erase myself, Palestine has still called me back. 

Where I was once crushed by the weight of the world telling me I didn’t belong, I am now lifted by the support I’m seeing everywhere. Cities around the globe showed solidarity for the families getting evicted in Sheikh Jarrah, and hundreds of thousands participated in protests.

Muna El-Kurd opened the eyes of millions by documenting an American Jewish settler trying to steal her home. Emma Watson’s Instagram, with a massive 65 million followers, posted solidarity with Palestine.

And most recently, Amnesty International came out with a report indicating what Palestinians have been saying for decades: What Israel is doing to the Palestinian people is, in fact, apartheid. 

All of these things have made me realise that the world is not the same as it was when I was a child, and I can finally be myself without being told I don’t belong.

Instead of feeling shame for being a part of the Palestinian diaspora, I feel strengthened and supported by it. This is why I have hope for Palestine, and why I know that it will never be forgotten, no matter how hard the world tries.

Tariq Raouf is a Palestinian-American Muslim writer, based in Seattle. You can follow them on their journey of rediscovering their roots with their newsletter, Finding Palestine

Follow them on Twitter: @tariq_raouf

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author's employer.