“Is your father a terrorist?”,a classmate asked at recess after a presentation about my cultural identity, a part of me I was so proud of. I scoffed as I wrinkled my brows into a frown. I was astounded as to how someone could joke, even ponder over such a ludicrous question. I started feeling light headed, like I was about to cry. After calming myself down and politely answering no, the classmate scuttled back to her band of bullies. How could she say such a thing? I’d never been ashamed of who I was, thanks to my parents, my Vietnamese mother and Christian Syrian father, but now I was, to say the least, bitter and outraged by her ignorance. After I came home from school, my father asked me how my presentation went, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that someone had been so prejudicial, so inconsiderate to who my father was. That night, I stayed awake for hours, repeating and repeating what had happened and how appalling the situation was. It taught me to be proud of who I am, but mostly to rise up and reflect over our current world’s ignorance and lack of education in what we don’t understand.
A few months later, my father took a trip to the Caribbean. After he came back, I asked him if he had ever experienced racism and Arabophobia in our everyday world, specifically at the airport, and his devastating answer confirmed my suspicions: he had. One time at the airport, a customs officer had stopped my dad after seeing his birth place on his passport: Damascus. The officer then obligated my father to come into an interrogation room where he asked him questions and he searched his bags. As I heard this, I was in disbelief over the officer’s judgement. My father had been a Canadian citizen for more than 30 years, and had barely any family left in Syria. What harm could he possibly do? He wasn’t some heartless terrorist who desired, relished to kill innocent people. He was my father, a generous, brilliant, passionate man who liked to joke, loved to help others, and empathized with all those around him. To my dismay, He then told me sometimes he felt forced to conceal the fact he could speak Arabic on several job applications just so people wouldn’t think poorly of him. It disgusted me that our supposedly “progressive” yet flawed world could still harbor racist, detrimental ill feelings toward a nation so full of altruistic people that would benefit the world, have now been tainted by modern xenophobic culture. How could our world be so ignorant, so evil, to view Arabic people as the devils?
Ever since my father become a lawyer, he has considered changing his name, a traditionally Arabic name, to an organically “normal” sounding name, Michael. When I asked him why, he responded by saying that when clients meet him, they aren’t exactly cordial with him. He felt that his name was the underlying cause, like a piece of gum on your shoe you can’t seem to take off. He said he felt others judged him due to his name, and that even other Arabic people felt skeptical about hiring him.
I was surprised that he could even consider changing his name, a huge part of himself, but then I understood the truth: prejudice had taken over people’s minds, and we let it. We treated people like my father differently due to their nationality, a part ironically usually celebrated by others. We had alienated them from society by our long lasting stares and rude manners in our day to day life. We made them feel guilty for crimes they didn’t commit, actions that horrified them. We made them feel less than human.
In conclusion, I have realized that while I am proud and honoured to be part of such fascinating cultures, others feel inclined to demean people like my father, even my mother. While people proclaim everything is about race these days, I know that their hypocrisy is at fault. After terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East, we place blame on others who share nothing more to those radicals than their nationality. Everything is about race these days because they make it to be: by pushing others out of society and shunning them into oblivion. Whether it’s at the airport, the bank, even a restaurant, we need to stop our subconscious racist from rising from our heads. We have a duty, as citizens and people of this Earth, to respond with love and understanding after any trauma happening, and to be open and curious to learn the customs of other cultures in order to make this planet a warm hearted place where we stand alongside another, united.