Samer Owaida hails from Palestine, having immigrated to the United States with his family at the tender age of five. Samer is politically and socially active, and shares his views on culture, identity, and celebrating individuality. This story was recorded in partnership with StoryCorps and MALA.
“I always love to take opportunities that are aligned with self-identity and anything that goes against proving that our identity is not what mainstream media wants us to look like.
Identity-wise, I think I’m your average Joe. No, your average Samer. I have characteristics from the Middle East. I am very proud of them because it took a very long time for me to accept that they are not America’s mainstream image of beauty. And this was something very recent so sometimes I flaunt it a lot. But sometimes showing off is not the same as self-confidence to me. And I think self-confidence is for many people a roller coaster. Sometimes they feel they look amazing, and sometimes they feel they don’t, at least that is how I perceive self-confidence to be. And I feel like as time goes by I get to be more comfortable in my skin and I start loving myself a lot more.
I’m Palestinian, so technically we’re considered Arab. My mother and my father were born and raised there, as were my grandparents, and as was I. I was born in Ramallah, which is sort of like the capital of the West Bank in Palestine. I was five years old, and my sister was four, my mother decided to immigrate with my father to America. I remember my first day in America, and I remember being in the airplane when I was five years old. You know the little lady worker; she came over and told my mom, she’s like “I just want to thank you and your kids for actually behaving,” because I guess kids my age don’t behave on airplanes. I recall her giving us extra crackers.
I consider myself an above-average American, and that’s just actually the truth. I’m not moderate, I consider myself progressive. I vote as much as I can for legislation that I believe in, I’m very politically active, I’m very socially active. And unfortunately the average American is moderate and very out of tune with politics.
So to me, culture is what I wear, how I view the world, what I eat, how I look, and I think most importantly how I interact with what is foreign and what is local. And beyond that, I think culture for me is the basis of self-identity. And sometimes it’s tangible. Sometimes it’s things like clothes and foods that you can hold in your hands and say this is from my background, this is what I grew up with. Sometimes it’s intangible, sometimes it’s folklore, ideas, political thoughts, and I know in that sense that I am separate from America when it comes to the intangible and the tangible of my culture.
Different is not bad. I don’t know why there’s such a stigma against being different in mainstream society. So to me culture, it’s a heavy word with a lot of baggage. I just want to say that I am very proud of who I am, ad I’m very proud of how far I’ve made it. And I plan to go so much farther. And like I said, not just for myself but for my community. I always envision myself just leaving a little trail behind for people like me. Hopefully someday when people meet up with me, the ones that are like me, there will be a community for them because there isn’t one for me right now.
And I always go back to this one quote I thought of… ‘Solidarity is the tenderness of the people.’ So solidarity and ‘intersectionality’ shows just how human we are, and that’s’ what I want to improve upon.”