I Am 100% Mixed {Rochelle}

100% is a guest post series focusing on multicultural identity and the unique journey of connecting with more than one culture. To share your story, click here.

My name is Rochelle and I’m a half Egyptian, half white gal who grew up in an all-white suburb in Minnesota. My mother calls herself a Heinz 57, being a mix of French Canadian, Irish, German and many other European ethnicities. She’s a beautiful Caucasian woman with gorgeous freckles and a great smile. My father is 100% Egyptian and immigrated to the States in 1978.

I was not like any of my friends growing up. Our house always smelled of garlic and onions (since my mom did her best to be a proper Egyptian wife and cook Middle Eastern food). I was usually a little embarrassed of my dad, friends would straight up tell me they were scared of him.

In middle school (after 9/11) people teased me, asking if my dad was Osama bin Laden (at the time it didn’t occur to me how deeply racist and xenophobic this was). I desperately wanted to look like my friends, straightening my hair and plucking/shaving/waxing any excess dark hair that made me look…Arab.

I never learned Arabic and had no interest really. My mom learned it enthusiastically. The only times I heard it were when my parents spoke it if they didn’t want my brother and I to know what they were saying, or when we would go to Egypt to see my cousins. All I remember about those days in Egypt were being over-fed, hot and completely unaware of what people were saying.

Fast forward to college. I was awarded the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Scholarship, which required a commitment to meet frequently to discuss issues of diversity on campus. I began to wonder about my cultural and ethnic identity in a new way.

I realized that culturally, I am American through and through. Ethnically, I am Egyptian. Growing up I simply tolerated the existence of Egyptian culture in my life, but in college I wanted to dig into it.

I studied abroad in Cairo in 2008, and it was one of the most revealing and empowering seasons of my life. I learned conversational Arabic and really got to know my cousins for the first time.

Bridging the language gap allowed me to see them for who they are: hilarious, sarcastic, deeply loving people and not a bunch of sweaty loud people who dress funny. I took taxis on my own, ordered food, engaged with strangers on the street. I was elated.

I now have a much deeper appreciation for my Egyptian-ness. It’s so much a part my identity, in fact, that I am considering keeping my last name when I get married in a few months (yep, tying the knot with my love of two years).

After all, when women marry in Egypt they keep their last names. I feel lucky that my fiancé wholeheartedly supports this idea, if I decide to go through with it.

My father is a huge part of my life and I’m so grateful to him for all the years of patience when I had no interest in his culture or background. Now I take every opportunity to ask him about his upbringing and practice Arabic, which always ends in laughter.

 Rochelle is an Environmental Educator, Midwesterner at heart and yoga enthusiast. She lives in Los Angeles and loves to cook vegetarian food, go hiking and hang out in parks whenever she can. To learn more about her work, check out www.acespace.org.

To keep up with all posts from A Life with Subtitles, you can subscribe with a reader or sign up below to receive posts via email.

Grab a button for this series ~


No comments

Post a Comment

I love to hear from you! Like, seriously. It makes my day. Please feel free to respond, question, or add your perspective. Of course, please keep your words respectful. Thanks for reading and joining in the conversation!

A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.