New York Tech student Mirolla Mekaiel

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Learning To Embrace Her Culture

April 17, 2024

April is Arab American Heritage Month. Mirolla Mekaiel, a life sciences/osteopathic medicine (B.S./D.O.) student reflects on stereotypes and misconceptions about Arab Americans, her journey to embracing her culture, and her hope that the Arab American community be recognized for its contributions to society.

I frequently get asked, “Where are you from?” Maybe my long curly hair, my stereotypical Arab nose, or my dark complexion doesn’t give it away, so I proudly reply, “I am Egyptian.” But that question wasn’t always followed by a confident and proud voice. Usually, it hid behind the girl who was scared of revealing her identity to the world.

April marks the celebration of Arab American Heritage Month, bringing recognition to the 3.5 million Arab Americans in the United States. Only beginning to be recognized in 2021, Arab American Heritage Month gains a greater appreciation as the years go by. Unfortunately, Arabs have not always been showcased in a positive light, paving the way for hatred and spite to arise from fellow Americans. Since then, Arab Americans have struggled to gain respect in their fields and communities due to stereotypical and racist beliefs. However, Arabs never cease to showcase resilience, hard work, compassion, and generosity in the face of adversity, proving their strong-willed character.

It didn’t bother me when my answer was followed by a sarcastic voice eager to know more: “Did you ride a camel to school?” or “Are you related to Cleopatra?” because I began to realize the richness of my culture. But the truth is, being Egyptian means so much more than seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza or having one of the greatest ancient civilizations of all time. To me, being Egyptian means having the best support system from my friends and family. It is understanding the true significance of love, honor, and loyalty that is not only shown through my family but also through the Arab community.

This year embarks on a difficult time for the Arab community as the war in West Asia continues to shatter the lives and homes of many of our fellow brothers and sisters. However, Arab communities all over the United States have not forgotten the struggles of our people and continue to voice their opinions to the world through different means, such as social media, boycotting, protests, or simply praying for peace. Yet, through adversity, Arab Americans have found a means to connect to one another and collectively fight for the voice of our people to be heard.

My journey to embracing my culture and ethnicity was not easy, as I am sure many have struggled with the same issue before. However, throughout the years, I have realized that the richness of my culture and my heritage are what makes me who I am today. I only hope that through the celebration of Arabs annually, those who have struggled, and still struggle to gain an appreciation for their roots come to realize the richness of the culture they are blessed to be a part of. In doing so, I hope the Arab American community continues to honor their culture and show the true power of kinship. Through the recognition of Arabs throughout Arab American Heritage Month, I hope that our people will finally gain recognition for their contributions to our society.