Does My Background Shape My Identity?

Wednesday December 6, 2017
By: Nada Reda El Kharbotly

Nada and her family

He came from Turkey. She came from Palestine. He came for a better career. She came to escape a war zone. Two generations later I was born, in Egypt.  My family has given me a lot over the years, but nothing will ever come close to the multicultural background I was born into.

Nada El Kharbotly

Over the years, there was always a question that consumed me. Which country do I truly belong to? Should I consider myself Turkish, my last name surely suggests so. Or maybe I’m more Palestinian, almost all the family I know of live there. Perhaps Egypt should be the winner here. After all, it has been my homeland from the moment I was born. This constant dilemma sure made it tough to identify myself with only one group.

Nada’s mother in Jerusalem

My mother has visited Palestine 11 times. Her stories and memories there are embedded in my mind from the countless times she told them. It’s almost as if I’ve been there myself. Not to mention the Palestinian customs and traditions I follow. My father too, he fills me up with hopes of returning one day to Harput, Turkey, the village where our family originated from. The Kharbotly surname is quite unique. But strangely enough, I actually met someone, a few years back, who shares my surname. Our friendship has grown over the years, but to this day, it remains a mystery how we’re related. I definitely would like to look out for and meet more Kharbotlys – that’s on top of my bucket list.

Nada and her mother

When it comes to Egypt, my love for this country is endless. My very essence is Egyptian – its people, streets, humor, and the warmth and pride I feel being part of this great nation. There’s simply nothing like it. Our history alone is like no other.

Nada with her father and grandmother

So, the question of which country I belong to, remained unanswered, until a few months ago, when a thought finally sparked my realization. Why should I restrict myself to only one country? I can simply belong to all 3. In fact, why even stop at 3 when I have the whole world to connect with. From a genetic perspective, I’m Egyptian, Palestinian, and Turkish. However, I may also discover as I grow that I enjoy a Mediterranean diet like the Greeks or maybe I’ll fall in love with French treats, or even become obsessed with watching Bollywood movies. The unlimited possibilities make me wonder where else I can belong to. I don’t have to be identified to a specific culture. In time, I would like to explore more cultures, and embrace them as my own. This idea makes me more eager to discover and accept the world’s rich diversity.

Nada and her father

Sure, my heritage has given me a sense of belongingness – it’s gratifying to feel I’m part of something bigger than myself. But I can also belong to something even much bigger: the world. And being a global citizen also has its appeal. This way I’m not limiting myself to a certain group. To put things in perspective, let’s say my dancing skills are Turkish, my cooking is Egyptian, my soul is Palestinian, but overall, my views are global.

As for my identity, I don’t feel the need to define myself only by family heritage while there is so much more that has shaped who I am today. I’d rather define myself by my country. So, when people ask me to introduce myself, I just tell them my nationality, as if that automatically explains everything about me. However, as “age is just a number,” a county is just a place; you love and belong to by chance rather than choice. And although my background shaped a huge part of my character, it’s not all that I’m made of.

I have the freedom to define myself as I please; to define myself by my experiences, beliefs and interests. I’m more than a culture, a tradition, a border, a social behavior, a history or a language. I’m much more.

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  1. Beautiful article. May you always keep this beautiful spirit young lady

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