Swimming to America
I vividly remember one of the first few trips I ever took to Syria, just because of how odd it was for my brother and me. I couldn’t have been more than seven and my brother twelve when we were enrolled a summer swimming and English school, where we learned how to swim at 9 A.M., after the morning prayer of course, and then learned English in the classrooms behind the pool for the rest of the day, only giving break for snacks and the midday prayer. I remember my brother telling me about how he was forced to sit outside the class one day because he knew English too well. Scared I would also get kicked out of the class, for the rest of the summer I pretended to know less English than I really did just to fit in.
But why were these English schools so common?
Growing up as a half Syrian, half Lebanese American, I’ve had the privilege to experience Syria, Lebanon, and America while growing up without facing the limitations that Arab children face. As a child, these limitations were mainly about the school systems. As a teenager, they were about opportunities for advancing our futures. As an adult, they’re now about the education, opportunities, and the war.
I’m reminded every day to thank my parents for choosing to leave their families and come to America for us. I thank them for allowing me to learn English and Arabic together, rather than that become a handicap for my future. I want to thank them for not letting these wars define me, but allow me to define myself by knowing what really makes me both Lebanese and Syrian, or 51% Lebanese and 49% Syrian, according to my dad.