Arib Naser Alajmi
A Lost Identity in Translation—not

Actions may speak louder than words, as a few people would say, but to draw an action, one must think. And to think, one must ask oneself or receive questions. However, every question tangled in the void must be a rebirth of new thoughts.

The first question I received during my high school study abroad in the States, “Do you speak English?” And eleven years later, back in my hometown, I received a similar measured question, except that it had me feeling out of my depth, “but how’s your Arabic?”

Between the first and last questions, lived a rainbow of answers. Such as the time where a couple of my American classmates asked; “did you ride a camel to school?” “Where Saudi Arabia located on the map?” Or that California lady who asked me during a summer trip to Laguna Beach, “Are you a princess?”

Out of all the questions you’d receive, there will be one that can have the power to throw your thoughts into disarray, even as short and direct as: “Do you speak Arabic?” And that’s what got me thinking that within one of these stereotypical questions lies a crucial expression of self-identity: a mirror of belonging. 

The mother language bridges the gap between an individual and his or her culture, and questioning that part of a substantial relevance can either disrupt the image of oneself or reshape it, and in my case, reshaping a trusted view of a natural mother language. 

Little did I know that I’d feel guilt-ridden when I failed to conceive that every simple question is one deeply ruminative action toward self-determination. I didn’t welcome these kinds of questions with an open attitude at first (especially the last one), for they express an unrelenting battle within. How’s your Arabic? sounds: are you sure you’re Arab?

On a side note to you, dear reader, you either accept their picture of you and get along with life or unleash your inner picture into display; that is, where the action takes the lead.

Arib Naser Alajmi


Related News