Fatima Salemassi: A Mixture of Elements

Fatima was born in Venezuela, of Lebanese descent. In her beautiful story, she combines her worlds of Arabic, Latin, and American cultures. In 2006, she visited Lebanon, where she was caught in cross-fire due to war. Fatima has lived in Michigan for over 20 years, and wants to be identified by her range of dynamic heritage and cultures.

This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps. Story production credit given to Sydney Jarol from StoryCorps Chicago.

“I was born in Venezuela, and my parents are Lebanese.  They immigrated to Venezuela when they were very young so I have that mix of cultures.  And to me it was natural to understand the different cultures—the Latin-American culture, the Lebanese culture, the other Arabic cultures that we have in Venezuela.  And then moving to the United States, I feel that I gained an additional culture as well.  So I identify with people—that’s what I think made it easier for me.   So I don’t identify necessarily just with the culture as a whole. I see it as a bits and pieces, elements within a culture.  And there are things that I like, things that I don’t like, you know, I adapt it as my own.

My mom and my dad always said they wanted to be buried in Lebanon even though they loved Venezuela.  They said “if we are buried in Venezuela, then you will never go back to Lebanon, so we want to be buried in Lebanon so you have a reason to go and visit Lebanon, and you don’t forget where you come from, your origins.”  We went in 2006, and we were there for a month.  We were with my children; it was there fist time that they go to Lebanon.  We were in Beirut and they were enjoying it, it was beautiful.

One day before the 2006 Israeli-Lebanese war, we went to the south of Lebanon, we got caught up in the world, we couldn’t leave. We were there for 15 days, 15 days in war.  We [inaudible] the culture that it was fun and then we lived the actual reality. So all of that is part of the Lebanese identity.  The war, the beaches, the restaurants, and family–that’s what I think defines Lebanon.  So For me to be able to enjoy what is great about Lebanon, what is great about Venezuela–we have political issues right now–or what is great about the Untied States, I also have to accept what we may not find as comfortable.  To me it’s fascinating, that mixture of elements.  I want to enjoy all of them, the good and the bad, whatever that means.

My identity is really encompassing, I always reject identifying with one culture.  Definitely, Venezuela is where my heart is, that’s where I was born, that’s where my family is, that’s what I know.  But I’ve been living here in the United States in Michigan for almost 21 years; so I’ve been here for so long, and I do feel American as well.  Michigan is my home as well.  But it’s easy for me to go back to Venezuela, go back to Lebanon—it’s still my home as well.  So I just would like a time I guess in which I’m not challenged to identify or show solidarity to a specific group. I don’t want to identify as Lebanese, or I don’t want to identify as only Muslim, I don’t want to identify as only a Latino-American.  I want to be identified as a mix of all of this because I feel that I understand all of them. Then why am I’m going to be cornered as just one so that people accept me?  I feel that people should accept me by my different identities. That’s what makes me who I am, and I don’t need to accommodate anyone.”

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