Noor Jebreal shares how her own experience broke the stereotype of a Palestinian American upbringing, with a single mother as a role model. She recounts how close-knit the Arab community is, and how her grandparents worked hard to provide their children with a better life. Noora stresses on the importance of independence, education, and self-efficacy. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I’m from Oak Lawn, Illinois. I grew up in a Palestinian-Muslim household, practicing the religion a lot. I surrounded myself with Muslim friends and my family also kept me grounded and taught me about the religion. But it was one of my best friends who was in the fifth grade with me taught me how to pray and taught me a lot, and I feel like that always kept me humble.
My parents are divorced and that’s not really, I guess, common in Chicago’s Muslim community. So, I guess, I was like a rare gem or like that token friend whose parents are divorced but I grew up to love that because my mom is very lenient and my dad’s very strict and very religious and I always feared my dad so I followed my religion in fear that my dad would find out that I did something wrong because in the Arab community in Chicago everybody knows everybody, literally.
I grew up with a majority white people. I went to school with all of them. I mean, I still had a good amount of Muslim people going to my school and I’m thankful for that as well but even the Arab and the Muslim people I went to school with are also kind of, I guess, that cliché phrase “whitewashed.” My grandparents came here in 1968 or no 1969 from Beitunia, Palestine and my grandpa came here, he like, I guess, sold land and came here with all the money he had that he sold some of his land and he bought a house. He never once owned a credit card and everything he had he saved up all his money to buy what he had and they didn’t have a car until 1972. The street they lived on was 63rd and Francisco in Chicago and everybody from the village lived on that street.
I definitely want to see both of us, including my brothers, I want to see us educated and not having our kids, when we have kids, I don’t want to see them struggle the way we did. I want them to have parents who have a good educational background and have money to provide our children with an education and be able to focus solely on school but also like the phrase goes “teach a man how to fish rather than give a fish.” I don’t want them to growing up like us. I want them to have a more stronger foundation of a family but to also be open with us and I want to be able to also provide for my mom, for my family, and I want us to keep the house that we’re living in, you know. That’s the house that my grandpa bought and he worked hard for it. That’s where we grew up. That’s where, I guess, where my roots in America are.
On our 4th of July days, our whole block would come over. We’d have a bunch of fireworks, even though fireworks are illegal in Illinois, ironically, on Independence Day. We’d have a bunch of barbecues. We’d have all our relatives over, all our friends on our block. We’d have like a little kiddie pool set up and we’ll play in the kiddie pool, watch fireworks. We’ll move it from the streets on the block to our backyard and it was very lively.
What motivates me is just the lifestyle that I’m living. I want to succeed and do better and live in better, I guess, environment and for my future and for my children and I never want to rely on my husband because I see the way my mom relied on her husband and like now like she is like struggling, you know, to pay bills and stuff. I don’t want to be like that but I do have a lot from respect for family members and parent who are like that who are single and working paycheck-to-paycheck just to feel their children. I mean this is so cliché but I really do just want to see more kindness in the world and I want people to preserve their roots and where they come from. I never want them to be ashamed of where they come from. Instead of hiding it, teach people. “Hey, look at this. This is my culture and this is what we do.”