There is a blurry line between ‘integrating’ and ‘adapting’ to a different culture. Fatima Omar describes how she carved out her own identity by sticking true to her own personal values and individuality. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps. Learn more about “Muslim American Journeys” here.
“My journey started here in Chicago on August 31st of 2002. I just turned 17 when I landed in Chicago. I’m originally from the United Arab Emirates. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.. [a] little difficult at first because I had to leave my friends and being a teenager at the time, I really didn’t understand what that would be like, but I made it through and now I’m here.
I would have to say I was never a religious person and that wasn’t really an issue growing up in Abu Dhabi because it’s a liberal country. Here, I felt like I struggled a little bit more with it because of my mom because she’s a religious Muslim and wanted us to wear the scarf and dress modestly. So I saw myself kind of like fighting with that because in our culture, it’s like you don’t want to be disrespectful to your parents and you kind of want to carry out their wishes. But at the same time, I was struggling, and I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. Ultimately, I made the decision to just be myself and follow what I wanted to do.
There are principles and guides of the way one should handle themselves, and that’s through charity and being kind to other people and treating one the way you would treat yourself, so that’s what makes a Muslim. Part of being from a different culture is that you tend to want to stay in that culture and not integrate into the new culture that you’re coming to so being open about the new environment. You know you don’t have to be completely integrated, but at least pick things that you feel that sort of relate to you without completely losing who you are. Because you know at the end of the day, it’s a new country that you’re living in, and there are certain things that you have to adhere to and kind of adopt… but you don’t have to completely lose who you are. And I feel like growing up with people from all over the world kind of instilled that. I describe myself as a global citizen because sometimes it’s kind of hard to, when people ask where are you from or what you’re identity is, it’s kind of hard to like pinpoint a single ethnic background nationality. I feel that I’m one with a lot of people.”