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Arriving from my Syrian Roots

Posted by Nyla Jano on
TORRAIN Recycled Bags: Photo of a Syrian market

My parents were born and raised in Syria and growing up as an American, it’s been an interesting road navigating the connection to my roots. I wasn’t proud of my culture when I was young. It actually makes my skin crawl when I look back on how I acted. I begged my parents to speak to me in english when my friends were at my house. I envied the freedom that some of my friends had; of having sleepovers, wearing whatever they wanted, not having to go to church, speaking with a loose tongue around their parents and having lenient curfews. I wanted the same freedom. But instead I had to wear dresses, straighten my hair, be home early, not have boys over, attend ‘unusual’ Arab events, go to Arabic school and Sunday school and Orthodox church that lasted 3 hours…

I rebelled in high school and even more so in college and when I finally could, I moved to the modern, freedom land of California - further away from my family and my roots.

But while exploring my wanderlust and interest in American subculture on the West coast, I’ve grown a deep love and appreciation for where I come from. I am extremely close to my family. I miss them everyday and in most recent years I’ve been troubled by the aversion I had to my culture as a kid. I understand why I drifted but I’ve been trying to get in touch with my purpose; how I can connect where I’m from with my current path.

It’s been confusing as there lies a big gap between my dad growing up playing in the streets of Damascus and me living out in Portland Oregon. Beyond that, it's heart wrenching to know that those streets he grew up on don’t exist anymore. The fact that Syria is leveled and continues to get destroyed couldn’t be more painful. Generations have been lost to the war, beyond reparation and not only have all the people perished but the country itself is in rubble. The mentality is so far gone at this point and the only thing left, I feel, is to have hope for a new dawn.

I am so thankful I was able to see the Syria that once was, first when I was 8 years old then again in high school and lastly a few months before the civil war broke out in 2010. I didn’t realize when I was young that I was exposed to a world beyond what many people get to experience and, that it influenced me in more ways than I can imagine. I learned to have an open mind. I learned to have a taste for adventurous food, an eye for detailed design, an ear for world music, an acceptance for different ways of interacting. I learned not to judge what we don’t know just because one way is different than our own; that everyone expresses themselves differently and that it’s not necessarily with bad intention. I learned a balancing act of trust and openness while being guarded and aware. I witnessed first hand what a passionate, wild, expressive people we are and that it’s not just my family. It’s our culture. I experienced the markets, the food, the language, the driving, the poetic expressions that cannot be translated, and mostly, the camaraderie we have with family and friends.

A close friend of mine recently called me the ambassador. She said that my message is carried on to those I encounter by just being who I am. She said that my spirit is worldly and inspiring. It was a beautiful compliment but really? I just have to be me to fulfill my purpose? It’s hard to buy that but as I continue to carve my path and do my work, it’s motivating and uplifting to realize that the spirit she is referring to comes from my upbringing when, this whole time, I thought I lost it.

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