April 30, 2019
The Palestinian Boricua
Coming from such a diverse background of being Palestinian and Puerto Rican, I have gotten a lot of mixed reactions from people when I tell them about my background. Some would be shocked and ask “how did that happen?” Others would say something like “wow, that’s an amazing combination” and occasionally I get a “you foreign Amani” from my friends. One reaction in particular that I never liked getting was when people would ask if I was a Muslim or a Catholic.
Religion can be a sensitive topic to discuss for some people, and for me this question made me feel rather uncomfortable for the simple fact that I felt as though I had to choose one religion over the other because that’s what most people would expect to hear. If I were to say I was a Muslim people would question why I never wore a hijab. If I were to say I was a Catholic, people would ask why I did not attend church regularly or ask me something about the Bible, all of which I would not have a clear answer for. I had never put much thought into my religious nature or upbringing because in my household, religion was never really a huge topic of discussion, no one was judged for believing in what they believed in or how they chose to believe. My parents never forced religion on me, but rather left it up to me to choose any religion I wanted to practice or even no religion at all.
My mother was brought up as a Catholic from a young age, attending church every now and then. My father was a devoted Muslim, born and raised in Israel, later coming to the United States. Typically, most Palestinian men have children with women within their religion, but since my mother is a Catholic my father was actually able to marry my mother and later have children together. Even without knowing much about religion, one could assume that being a Muslim is quite different from being a Catholic. They have different places of worship, different names for their God, different scriptures, different ways of praying, and holistically many different practices for fulfilling their religious duty. I felt like I had a confliction of religions that seemed to be more different than alike.
I grew up in my Puerto Rican household with my mom, brother, abuela, and my father once upon a time. All my life I only knew about my Puerto Rican roots, the food, the music, the Spanish language, and of course the people. All of my family functions consisted of the boricuas (another name for Puerto Ricans) on my mother’s side. Any birthday I ever had, was attended by only my Puerto Rican family. I celebrated, and still do celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which Muslims do not celebrate. I never fasted or celebrated Eid and I do not pray 5 times a day as a typical Muslim would, but one practice I do follow is to not eat pork. A lot of my Puerto Rican family members tend to forget that I do not eat pork and offer me foods like pernil (roasted pork) at our parties. Pernil is such a Puerto Rican delicacy and is at basically every celebration you can think of. You may assume it’s hard to resist such delicious, but I do my best to follow my sole duty as a not so typical Palestinian to not eat pork.
Although I’m Palestinian and may be expected to be a Muslim, I unfortunately do not follow many of the Islamic practices but my brother on the other hand, who is fully Puerto Rican, actually adopted to the practices of Islam and converted to become a Muslim a few years ago. I remember when my brother first became a Muslim he gave me my first copy of the Quran which I still have to this day. It was so amazing to me to see his interest and liking of the religion grow fonder each day and being able to make the decision to convert in order to better himself through religion was a great thing.
My name often times grabs many people’s attention. Amani is an Arabic inspired name meaning desire or wishes. Nassar is also an Arabic name meaning helper, protector or victory. I’ve had people who are from a middle eastern descent ask if I was to0 because they heard what my name was where we would then sit and talk about my name and family background, it’s always a good conversation starter. There has even been instances where my teachers would ask me where I was from after reading my name off of the attendance sheet or seeing what I looked like.
Growing up in a multicultural household is an experience I will cherish forever, I had the best of both worlds. I remember when I was younger I would walk into the room sometimes and see my father on the floor praying and would walk right up next to him pretending to pray just like him. I had no idea what I was doing, but seeing my father pray made me want join in, even if I was doing it wrong. Some late nights my father would go to our favorite Hala restaurant and get some of our favorite foods, fried rice with half chicken and this amazing garlic sauce they had, it was our special sauce that no one else knew about. Now my abuela, she’s the chef of the house, she would rather cook a five course meal at home any given day than go out to eat anywhere. Up until this day I run into the kitchen and help her cook some of our favorite Puerto Rican foods like tostones (fried green plantains) and pollo guisao (chicken stew). One day without any sort of explanation, around the age of 14, I had this feeling that my two cultures could coexist and they have all my life, it was almost as if I was in two different countries right in my own home. Now that I was getting older and could appreciate my cultures more than ever before it all just felt right, my better halves made me who I am today and who I will become later on.
Everyday is a new learning experience for me when it comes to my cultures. From my first semester of English class, I have learned new things about the Muslim beliefs from classmates writings and discussions of practices. My brother even talks to me about Islam and the meaning behind certain things in the religion like the people and the names of parts of Israel. Being mixed is something that I have always embraced and will continue to embrace. I love everything my cultures have offered me from my curly hair to thick eyebrows and even my effortless Spanish tongue. Although I do not know much about my Palestinian culture or family, it is something I plan to indulge in as time progresses. One day soon I want to learn Arabic and find out more about my Palestinian family, I even want to read the Quran from cover to cover.