Previously, in Part One of “Finding Self”:
I wrote a letter to my parents letting them know that I was hurt because I never received letters back from them while at summer camp. When I finally did receive a response back, I saw that they struggled with their writing skills. Now, being over 40, “I get it now”. Although they were different from other parents, they showed their love in different ways. (if you missed Part One, you can read it HERE)
This is Part Two…
The Low-Down On Heritage
For most of my formative life, being different has been my greatest source of grief. Like most children of immigrants, I grew up simply trying to “fit in” – (a theme that has followed me for years) and as a result, I didn’t like myself very much. I didn’t like my dark skin, my curly and sometimes unruly hair, my petite yet curvy body, and my heritage. Actually… pretty much everything!
It was a constant struggle between self-love and people-pleasing, while still trying to stay true to who I am (which actually became the foundation of a lot of the work I do now, but more on that later.) As a result, I felt unworthy of fitting in, having friends and god forbid – a boyfriend!
But first, I’d love to talk about heritage. For me, heritage is a person’s unique family identity – the values, traditions, culture and artifacts that are handed down. I understand that the concept of heritage can bring different ideas for different people, ‘cuz not every inherited trait or tradition is always positive, (believe me, I could give you a list!) but I think we all could agree that we generally consider heritage to be the meaningful AND positive traits of our family’s identity. As for me, I incorporate my heritage into my own life, both professionally and personally with my family and kids so that they can pass along to future generations. (you’ll read about this later)
So, like any child of the diaspora, I was used to straddling two worlds – one where almost no one looked like me and another where I was surrounded by people who did. I am Israeli of Yemeni heritage, which makes me a Jew from an Arab land, (don’t understand? don’t worry, it’s complicated) which meant summers were time with family in Israel and of course, the rest of the year in the U.S. – and yet in both, I still deemed too foreign.
So, I began to feel ashamed of who I was, and unworthy.
But first, let’s begin with where I was born – Lawng Island, New Yawwk (ugh)…
Growing up, we were one of the VERY few Jewish families in our neighborhood during the 70’s and 80’s. And to add to it, we didn’t look like “Jews” to many people. I mean people couldn’t understand that Jews come in dark colors too! (Hello…Israel is in the f*ckin Middle East people!) Anyway…it also didn’t help that Israel was constantly in the news at the time due to tension from surrounding countries. People just didn’t know how to see me. Was I the good guy? The bad guy? Was I Black, Indian, Hispanc, or something in between? And to top it off…I would hear the words, “go back to where you came from.”
The feeling of being different was always projected onto me. It resulted in teasing and exclusion, but what really hurt was the zero interest from others to learn about me and get to know me.
So, I shrank myself and became small. Just as people expected me to be.
Let’s continue with the complicated country of Israel (ugh again)…
As you know, I have melanated skin, so that means my cocoa color becomes dark chocolate in the summers (sounds yummy right? well not for some.) Light-skinned Israeli kids would call me “koosheet” (a term that meant the n-word), and would look at me as the “black” American (ugh, racism was so awful in Israel back then). My American mannerisms and clothes didn’t help either. I would hear giggles from kids and extended family when I spoke Hebrew due to my American accent – even from my own parents! (nice, huh?)
So, I shrank myself and became small, as people expected me to be.
Now, you’d think as a child, straddling these two worlds would be fun and amazing… sure as other kids never had the opportunity to travel. But when it came to “fitting in”, I could never win. I was pretty much screwed either way.
So, in order to be happy, “fitting in” was the only solution for me. Screw that… “fitting in” meant SURVIVAL! That meant being purposeful about dressing the way others dressed, eating what others ate, and most importantly, taming my unruly hair. OMG…my hair. Next to my heritage and my skin color – this was the top of my list as far as grief.
Until I discovered… Miss Dark & Lovely!
And that takes us to the next part of Finding Self… coming next week.
Hold on to your hair!