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Office of Multicultural Affairs—NYC

Coming to Terms—On Being Muslim and Italian

Every Sunday, my father would pick me up from the mosque at three PM. I remember running into the car, and being so excited to tell him everything that I learned from Sunday morning class. I can't say if we ever bonded more than at those moments; his smile was priceless to me. But there was always a small dark cloud that would grow as we approached home. I wore a veil to the mosque, but I would always feel the need to remove it before we arrived home. I don't know now if I was ashamed, or scared, but I didn't want my mother to see me with it. I still would love to tell her everything that I learned that day; there was always something new. But she could never really understand what I was going through and what I was learning. I suppose that happens when an Egyptian Muslim man marries a Catholic Italian woman.

Donna Petralia was born and raised in Flushing, Queens. She grew up in an Italian household with her parents and her two brothers Ronald and Louis. Her father Louis was a hard worker who emigrated from Italy when he was five and built his way up. He always provided for his family and showed his children that you could get anywhere with hard work. Her mother Francis emigrated from Italy when she was two and was a stay at home mom. Donna and her two brothers were all very successful and landed great jobs for themselves.

Karam Mohamed was born and raised in Cairo Egypt. He grew up in an Egyptian household with his parents and his five siblings. Otef, Hamdy, Ilham, Nasr and Omar his father was a fruit market owner and his mother was a stay at home mom. His father wardani was a hard working man who migrated from south Egypt to the city and made a life for him where there were more opportunities. His mother Amina was born in Palestine and illegally immigrated to Egypt when the war broke. Both Wardani and Amina were hard workers who went through many struggles in their lives but always showed their children with hard work you can get anywhere.

Donna and Karam grew up and left their parents households and started their own lives. Donna landed a great job as a sales associate at Xerox where she was making great money while doing what she loved. While Karam decided he wanted to leave Egypt and come to America to make a better life for himself. When Karam came to America he decided to come queens New York. Donna also decided to stay in queens after moving out of her parent’s house.

After work Donna and Karam would go to the gym after a while of always seeing each other they became familiar faces. Karam the emigrant with dark skin who had a heavy accent and was a dishwasher built up the courage. To o ask the white skinned girl from queens who had a great paying job. Their story was just like any other couples story, after dating for a while they feel in love. They decided to get married and then had a child.

The only difference for Donna and Karam was that just like any other couple this came with extreme difficulties. Donna and Karam came from two different ends of the world. With different faiths, culture, and class as we all know however, love does not discriminate. Reguardless of the struggle they stood strong and held together. After a while they became used to the negativity form friends and family. Due to the fact that they were both adults made this a little more understandable and easier for them to accept, unlike myself.

Growing up in a biracial household has been one of the most confusing obstacles for me to overcome, and has shaped me forever. I never really felt accepted by either side of family, and always felt the odd stares and whispers of outsiders. The experience was horrible. But I was tempered by that fire, and have gained so much strength by facing my challenges and overcoming them.

These days, biracial relationships are not cause for much comment now. Twenty-one years ago though, you were at best crazy for dating or marrying a foreigner, particularly when the religions clashed to my parent's extent. It was hard growing up with my uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents treating us like outsiders. It was hard to understand at age 5 why my mother would fight with her parents about accepting my father. He was a good man, a better husband, and a father without peer. I came to realize that this was different than what other families went through. There was always tension at home as my grandparents strived to separate my mom and dad.

The older I became, the more I kept telling myself that everything was going to be better, but it never did. My extended family made me feel at times that my father was some evil man or a terrorist, and that he would ruin my life. My mother, to her credit, always supported my dad. It was hard to see her tears, and hard at times to not hate my dad. Peer pressure can be so hard to resist, but my mom, even though she cried to herself to sleep countless times, consistently taught me what was right from wrong. How love was more important that race, how strong a family could be.

Twelve years ago, I spent the night at my mother's parent's house. This wasn't a common occurrence, but they still were my family. I woke up in the morning in time for prayers. I put on my veil and when I was done with my prayer, I went downstairs with my veil still on. My aunt was downstairs and started laughing at me. And said "Where do you think your going with that thing on your head?" Enough was enough; I was going to take their smart remarks anymore. I turned around went back upstairs put all of my belonging back into my bag. Went back downstairs looked at the both of them and told them one day when you need me the most your going to wish I was there with or without this thing, my veil on my head.

All they did was watch me leave, and didn't say one word to me. But I was in no need to hear a single thing. I had found myself. The world always has a message of how to act, how to conform, how not to be the nail that sticks out waiting to be hammered. I am not a rebel, just a half Egyptian half Italian girl who sees her parents as wonderful, loving people who want nothing more than to be themselves. There is a quiet strength in that, something that I feel I had to earn the right to inherit. I learned to be proud of myself, to trust myself, and to be strong. And to be what ever I want to be because all it takes is will power and the strength to push through. These obstacles make me see that I want to go places in life to show myself and everyone out there that thinks I cannot that, I can. I intend on keeping my word and doing all it takes for me to get to the places I want to be.

It's twelve years from that day. When I return from the mosque, I still make my dad smile. When I return from the mosque, I still tell my mom everything I learned that day. And when I return from the mosque, I return with my veil on, and straight into my mother's warm embrace.

A. M.
Summer 2011