Meriem Sedoun shares her experience as an Algerian Berber, having grown up with only her immediate family in the United States. She discloses how she reconnected with her Muslim heritage during a trip to Tunisia. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps. This story was produced by Sydney Jarol through StoryCorps Chicago.
“Whenever I enter a different space, I have to think about how I’m presenting myself and specifically how I’m saying my name. Because for me my name is Meriem, but I also go by Mariam, I go by Marium, I go by Meri, I go by, you know, so many things because I have so many friends of different backgrounds and they say my names in different ways.
My family is ethnically Berber or Amazigh. My parents were trying really hard to make sure that we didn’t lose our identity because we don’t have family here outside of our immediate family. And I know they did their best and they really wanted us to remember our heritage, remember our religion, remember where we come from and who are and what’s important to us as a family. I was always proud of my identity, but I was never able to speak about it openly with people because I felt like they would have a negative reaction and that would immediately turn me off from having a conversation because in my head I was just like I don’t want to engage in this uncomfortable dialogue.
Me connecting with myself was when I went to Tunisia for a study abroad trip and that was the first time I was in a higher position than my classmates because I’m American, but I’m also Algerian so I am neighbors with Tunisia. And we get there and there are all of these students who are American, but no else had ethnic ties or religious ties to that country like I did. And that was the first time anything like that has ever happened to me where I was in the in group and everyone else was in the out group and I think that was a really big confidence booster to myself and that really pushed me to embrace my identity and really just learn about my culture and my heritage and understand where my parents were coming from more because you forget that they grew up in a different circumstance and they had different experiences.
But it was just beautiful to learn about being Amazigh, being Berber, being able to speak Berber just as I’m speaking English to you now like I was just speaking Berber, Amazigh. And it was amazing because I was able to practice more and I felt like a real, Berber lady and I’m strong and it’s like a part of me was just dormant for a while and it got to come out. Being abroad and seeing my peers and how they appreciated that culture and how willing they were to learn gave me confidence and gave me strength so that if I did encounter people who weren’t coming from that same cultural appreciation world, I would still be strong enough to not shy away from that conversation and not put myself down about it. And I just kind of realized that I don’t mind that I have different names. I will say my name however I want to say my name. And I know my name is Meriem, my name is Mariam, I know my name is Meri, but at the core I’m the same person.”