Majeda Owaida, in a personal interview, describes her journey into America from Palestine. Her greatest pride is her children, and she strives to make education a priority for others.
How important is identity to you?
Identity is the most important thing to me. I feel that with my identity, I can fit in with any culture or group of people. My identity gives me confidence, and a sense of belonging. Who I am makes me proud of my unique features as a Muslim woman of color.
How, if at all, has the current political climate affected you personally?
As a woman, I wanted someone other than Hillary Clinton to run as the first female presidential nominee. Trump’s language and rhetoric hurts me, not just as an American, but as a Muslim. I wish President-elect Trump would apologize for the comments he said, because it would make healing easier.
Do you have any stories about how things have changed for the better? Or any stories that show how things have not changed?
My story of immigration. I came to America with a degree that meant nothing here. I lost hope quickly. Then, I saw how my children were doing in school. They were learning so much. Over the years, it has inspired me to revisit my education, and I’m now attending college.
Do you know where your family came from? If yes, what do you know about that history?
My family came from Palestine, from a small town called Kafr Jammal. Kafr Jammal is known for having great education. My family has been from here as long as I can remember.
What was it like living in your country of origin before you came to the United States?
It was a simple life. There was no rush, no craziness. People just went upon their lives.
What were the circumstances that prompted your decision to immigrate to the United States?
When I married my husband, I came with him to America.
What kind of work did you engage in after arriving in the United States? Do you feel that you were treated fairly?
By my second year in America, I worked at a school called “The Aqsa” as a teacher’s aid. I felt that I was accepted easily since my English was strong.
What aspects of life in the United States have made the greatest impression on you?
The amount of minorities in America. There are so many minorities in America that I’ve learned different things from. Back in Palestine, everyone was Palestinian. But in America, there’s so many different people.
What efforts have you made to maintain your cultural traditions in this country? Have you let go of some you did not feel represented you anymore?
I work at a non-profit organization that focuses on Palestinian culture and the youth. I cook Palestinian food for my children, I purchase Palestinian artwork to place in my home, and I plan a trip every three years with my family to Palestine.
Do you plan to stay in this country forever? Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?
I am a U.S. citizen and because my children are situated in the USA, I plan to stay here. But in my heart I will always belong to Palestine, and if the situation ever changes I plan to return.
Do you ever travel to your country of origin?
Yes, every three years or so.
What has been the greatest challenge that you have faced living in this country?
The biggest challenge is missing my family in Palestine. I miss them everyday, and stay in contact as much as I can.
What has been your greatest achievement in this country?
Besides returning to pursue higher education, I am able to be proud of seeing my children retain their Palestinian identity and succeed.
What kinds of relationships do you maintain with people from other racial or ethnic groups in the United States?
Our community is very small so unfortunately I do not interact much with those outside of it.
What’s your best memory?
The moment I came to America and saw my children struggle to learn English. It was partly humorous, partly disheartening.
What’s your greatest accomplishment?
I work at a non-profit Palestinian organization, The United Holy Land Fund (UHLF), that aims to provide Palestinian students with scholarships.
Describe some milestones in your life of achievements and success.
Returning to college at the age of 43. Becoming the Assistant Director at the United Holy Land Fund. Being able to send two of my children to college as well as myself.
Can you describe a time in your life where you overcame challenges and odds? Triumph over adversity?
My entire life has been a challenge. Raising my children and balancing my career was hard. Keeping my Hijab on in America was also difficult due to the sociopolitical climate. Fitting in with all the different cultures in America was also difficult. I managed by educating myself, managing my time, and reading a lot.