“With malice toward none, and Charity toward all.” -Abe Lincoln
I am white. The kind of white that glows so brilliantly in a bikini, people actually squint when they look upon me. When I was young I got no end of comments such as, “So your parents finally decided to let you out of the closet huh?” or “You Albino?” To which I’d proudly raise my pink chin and say, “No, I’m Arabic.”
Now a days, comments like the ones said to me would be seen as bullying, but to me it was the foundation for building this young woman from the inside out. People’s perception of me, is not me. My actions will make me who I become.
Growing up, my Palestinian grandmother would often tell me stories about her new life as an American. I admired the way she could always laugh off the wrong perspectives of others. I’d sit at my mother’s never empty table, laden with the aroma of spice filled dishes like Mulfoof, (Lamb/rice stuffed cabbage w/lemon and garlic.) stuffed grape leaves, or Sfeeha, and watch my grandmother’s boney hands add emotion to her story-telling. One of my favorite stories was her Mafia story.
“They thought we are Mafia!” She’d shout and laugh and briefly borrow one hand to dip her bread.
I have her story hands, I’d think, and dip my bread with hers. And Listen…
“Whenever family gathered on porch with Grandpa…Swoosh! Neighbors run inside! They hide! Shukry is coming! Scary Shukry is coming!” She’d pause and wait for us to laugh with her.
“One day,” she’d continue, “Uncle Jo ask that his friend could come for dinner. Of course yes! So the boy come. He eat and eat and stay all night. Next I see the mom. She thank me. Of course. But I couldn’t help myself. So I ask her, ‘Why all neighbors went inside when we come out?’ …Boosh! Her face is so red! She apologize. Of course. She tells me, until I invite her boy over, everyone assume we are Italian Mafia! Haha!”
I often retell this story to my own girls. My mixed race girls, who face a world far too eager to judge people based on appearance. My grandmother didn’t grow bitter and jaded because of the perceptions of others. She stepped out and offered her best. Her home. Her food. Her friendship. Kindness makes us laugh. Kindness. That was what my Arab family was made of.
And although I may not look like her on the outside, as a young woman I knew I was like her. After all, I had her story hands.