Struggles with My Afghan Identity: A Youth Perspective

I was born in 1998 in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan when the Taliban controlled the country.  My mother and I fled Afghanistan when I was an infant because of how dangerous it became. We traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan and lived there for a while until we received our visas to go to the United States to meet our family, who left a year before us.

My life as an infant and a small child was very similar to other children my age in the United States. At that time, we did not care where we were from, what religion we practiced, or what language we spoke; all we wanted to do was to play, eat, and sleep. However, that changed later on in my life, when I was in second or third grade.  We started watching the news, reading more, learning more, and making opinions and judging people based on what we learned.

I first learned what people thought being Afghan was when I told one of my classmates I was Afghan, and they immediately assumed I was a Muslim and that I knew terrorists. From then on, I heard many stereotypes of Afghans that made me ashamed of what I was; I was frequently asked, “Are you a terrorist?” or “Are your family terrorists?” or “Do you know terrorists?” I didn’t want to be associated with something that I didn’t do and something that only certain Afghans did. I didn’t want to be blamed for something that I didn’t do simply because the people who did it were from Afghanistan too.

Drawing credit: @Crayon2Papier

So, I no longer say I am Afghan to people I barely know; I say that I am Persian instead because people don’t usually know what Persia is, or where it is, so they tend to not make a judgment about you before they get to know you. I also say I am Persian because Persia was an empire from hundreds of years ago, and it was today’s Iran and Afghanistan.  Both countries speak the same language and have similar cultures. So, technically, I am Persian, so I do not have to say I am Afghan.

Being Afghan is important to me, and it is a big part of my life. I speak Farsi, eat Afghan food, and am around Afghans all the time. Yet, I still feel like I am more American and embrace American culture.  Just because part of my family is from Afghanistan, and I was born there, doesn’t mean I act “Afghan.” I was raised here in the United States, and I feel American.

My dad is Jewish, and sometimes I identify with being Jewish rather than being Afghan or Persian because I have noticed that being Jewish is more acceptable and common than being Afghan or Persian. People know more about Jewish people and Judaism than Afghanistan, Afghans, and Persia.  So, if I say that I’m Jewish, I’m more accepted into society, I blend in more with everyone else, and I don’t stand out too much.

I shouldn’t have to emphasize being Jewish or Persian or anything else.  If we all learned more about each other and got to know each other, we wouldn’t jump to judging.  I also judge people right when I look at them, and it’s hard to stop, but I’m trying and other people should start trying too.

Share your thoughts below: What’s your heritage and have you ever struggled with people judging your identity?

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