Arab-Americans have, understandably, been avid followers of news about the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Many first generation Arab-Americans fled to the US to escape political repression in their home countries.
Now, they see the Arab world changing dramatically. Two dictators have been toppled. Others seem to be teetering.
The so-called Arab Spring is causing Arab-Americans to reconsider their hyphenated identities.
At a recent roundtable in Chicago, second generation Arab-American activists, students and artists discussed the conflicts of identity that revolutions half-way across the world, are forcing them to confront.
Many second generation Arab-Americans have grown up on stories of the home-land their parents fled. They sought political asylum from repression and corruption in countries they loved, but felt they could no longer live in. Waves of Arabs escaping political oppression immigrated to the United States from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s and 80s.
Now, nearly three decades later, these young Arab-Americans are being confronted with a fundamentally existential question: “If we’re here because our parents fled repressive, undemocratic regimes … and those regimes no longer exist, well then – shouldn’t we go back?”
“It’s still bizarre, it’s still like a dream to even discuss, ‘can we possibly live there?’” asked Abdullah Fadhli, an artist who was born and raised in the US whose parents fled Libya in 1980 to escape Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
“My father didn’t come here willingly. He was an exile from the get-go. Libyans wanted to live in Libya, these people came here unwillingly, they love their country. My father hasn’t seen his family in over 30 years, I’m sure he’s going to go back.”
Ahlam Said, a Yemeni-American political organizer and activist, said as much as she might want to go back if things in Yemen change; her dual identity actually complicates things.
“Going back to Yemen, when you told people you were American-Yemeni, they’d sort of like smirk at you and go ‘emm, okay, yeah,’ Said said.
“I wasn’t raised in Yemen, I was born in Yemen, and I came here at the age of two, and now all of a sudden I’m beginning to enter into a world where I want to be closer to my Yemeni identity, I want to understand what’s going on, I want to be involved. But you know, I know there’s going to be a struggle if I go back, because now my identity is going to be challenged.