Losing My Ethnic Ambiguity

A3_Cartoon“Where are you from?”

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked this question. At Georgetown, this question brings me the same level of dread as “what’s a fun fact you want to share about yourself?” This question is the window into everything that I am. It is also the start of a lot of confusion.

I am Egyptian, by blood, by history, by family. I am American, by birth, by citizenship. I am international, by upbringing, by experience. I was born in the United States when my parents lived in India, and I lived there for a couple of years. We then we moved to Dubai, to the United Kingdom, to Singapore and then back to the U.K. I spent the majority of my life living in England, so when someone asks me where my home is, I think of where my family is currently residing. But England is not where I’m from. I am Egyptian, and my attachment to my history and my roots is essential to my identity.

Whenever I am asked where I am from, I always specify that I’m originally Egyptian and from London. From there, we explore the reasons why I have an American accent and not an English one. After that, for clarification purposes, I am asked where I was born. Cue confusion and bemusement when I say, “Albany, New York” (in my best English accent). “Okay, you’re Egyptian, you lived in England, you were born in the U.S. … So, what citizenships do you have?” Egyptian, American and Swiss. “What? Why Swiss and not British? Why do you have a Swiss passport?” At this point I share a long story about how my grandmother has a Swiss passport and how I was eligible to apply for Swiss citizenship (disclaimer: I have never been to Switzerland). I’m asked afterward where my favorite place to live was, which languages I speak, where I consider “home” and, therefore, where I really consider myself “from.”

But the reality is, I love having these conversations. Talking about where I’m from, where my family is from, where I’ve lived and what I define as “home” reminds me exactly why I came to Georgetown. If home is where the heart is, my home is in Egypt — and answering the onset of questions about my identity is easy. I chose Georgetown because I knew that understanding the tools for Egyptian development would only be possible through the global perspectives and diversity that exist on the Hilltop. I have never classified diversity by the color of one’s skin or the passport one holds, but rather through one’s perspective. Speaking to a fellow Hoya, who has had a completely different upbringing than my own, brings something unique to my experience and my understanding of the world around me — it reminds me that no single idea is better or more valuable than another.

The best part about this conversation is being reminded of my identity. Identity, I’ve learned, is entirely self-crafted. Our identity is so much more than the places we have lived or the passports we hold. It is made up of our life experiences. The experience of going back to Egypt every summer and the familial reminder of how great it is to be Egyptian has become a quintessential part of my identity. Going back home to the U.K. for Christmas and knowing the London Tube map inside and out has made England a huge part of my identity, too. Whenever I give a tour on campus and I’m introducing myself, I make sure to always say, “I’m originally Egyptian, from London, England,” because I can’t simplify where I’m from any more than that. But experiencing so many cultures, travelling to so many places and meeting so many people from all over the world has made me realize that I can’t just pick one or two places to identify with. So, yes, I am Egyptian, American, Swiss and British, but I am also a global citizen — and that’s a part of my identity that no passport can ever define.

Nada Eldaief is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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  1. I believe that a lot of us go through such problems in life and that we all need to discuss this with our friends and family members.

  2. If London is so important to your identity, why not apply for British citizenship? Are you worried that if Britain were to leave the EU you would no longer have the right to live in the UK (Yes I’m aware Switzerland is not part of the EU but it is part of the EFTA and Swiss citizens have similar rights to live in EU nations as other EU citizens do).

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