On Why I Support Gaza; Feel Gaza; Am Gaza

Right around this time of Ramadan in 2011, I had gone to a nearby local Arabic market to pick up fresh dates. The owner of the market, a Palestinian who was fluent in English, Spanish and Arabic, greeted me in a manner that is so familiar to me and my Cuban roots; a grandfather-like laugh that was full of things to share with this apparently young and naive stranger at his market: “You could be my granddaughter”.

While I shopped, he started to tell me stories of a month called Ramadhan. He had no idea I was Muslim, and I didn’t find a need to tell him. I just listened to him like I was used to listening to my grandparents’ stories—full of vivid imagery and memories. He told me how he came during the inception of the occupation and had settled in Miami where he married a Cuban woman and had children. He learned to speak Spanish fluently over the years, and I was further surprised by his usage of Cuban expressions and mannerisms too. He offered me a taste of the dates before I bought them, but I told him I was fasting too. He said I was the first Cuban Muslim he had ever met and ran back to get me a giant container of homemade rice and lamb. He also told me that he cooked for the local mosque every night during Ramadan and bragged that his dishes were everybody’s favorite. I wanted to pay him, but he refused and told me it was his responsibility to feed a fasting sister.

This morning, I wonder about Palestinians like him who have been fortunate enough to escape the terrible bloodshed that has occurred the past few weeks. Those who have settled in lands like the United States and replanted their roots to ensure that their children would live humble, yet safe, lives. The displaced millions. Like the Cubans in Miami, would they continue to hold on to hope and stories of days long gone? Will they show their children pictures of monuments and markets, and tell them stories of safer streets, more wholesome fruit and beautiful beaches like my parents did with me growing up? As a Cuban-American who grew up in the heart of a Cuban community in Miami, I grew up overhearing nostalgic men retelling stories of Cuba at café joints, like Versailles and La Carreta; voices talking about a day when the oppressive Castro regime would disappear; some even wishing el hijo de puta to be dead and forgotten.

Every now and then, you’ll overhear a Cuban wondering aloud of the malparido is dead or alive, but we all know that it wouldn’t make a difference because that land cannot heal overnight. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I sympathize with the Palestinian people, but I carry only a second-handed account of having a homeland raped by oppressive ideologies.

But the fight of the Cuban people and Palestinians are not the same. The Cuban people have not been systematically invalidated as human beings like the Palestinians have; we have not been wrongly branded as enemies to values like “democracy” and “freedom”. Our collective ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation and religion have not been used as tools to guarantee the rejoicing of our collective displacement and slaughter. What happens to the stories and histories of a people whose very identity and existence denies them the right to gain sympathy for their struggle and have the entire world watch while their civilians and homeland is beaten to a pulp?

It has always been in my nature and academic training to see two sides to every story; to dissect narratives for multiple perspectives and meanings, and unearth complications for the sake of avoiding reduction and simplifications. The problem is that the occupation is one of the few narratives without two sides because one side has been systematically silenced; the criticism of the actions performed by the Israeli state onto the Palestinians is nearly impossible without some sort of backlash. Today, I turned on computer to catch up with some news and there was a picture of a Palestinian father holding his daughter–same age as my own– who had part of her head blown off; the little girl’s brains dripped from her skull and I could almost hear his father’s cry. I wondered how many times that image had been seen and not felt; or worse, dismissed as just a casualty of war. This is not a war. When a man goes out to kill deer, he refers to this dynamic as a sport, a hunt or a game. Never does he refer to the imbalance of power between his armed self and his prey as a “war”. Why do we do so with the clear imbalance of arms, resources and death toll between the Palestinians and Israeli Defense Force?

A few days ago, I was asked by a relative why the Palestinian struggle was any more important than the recent deaths of the Ukranian people. The comment came after a discussion of why I had decided to start sharing alternative news about Gaza on my social media page. The response to that is that one life is no more important than another life; and there is a saying in Islam that the weight of one life is equal to that of the entire mankind. All life is sacred, and as such, a Palestinian’s victim’s life is not more important than an Israeli victim’s life. Life is life, and it must be preserved and treated in a dignified way until we return to our Creator. However, it is critical that we stop creating more distractions from what is currently happening in Gaza. The Israeli attacks began at the beginning of July, the beginning of the holy month of Ramadhan, with the claim that Hamas had kidnapped and murdered 3 Israeli boys (a claim that has now been corrected by the Israeli government itself); the attacks on the Palestinians continued while the world was distracted by the World Cup, by the 3 plane crashes and the atrocities occurring in Ukraine. For those who continue to passionately advocate for the Palestinians (even if it’s just by trying to raise awareness), it is critical that  others’ efforts to make the issue a casual one (“oh, this has been happening forever between the Arabs and Jews” or “I am tired of seeing bloodshed,” or “What’s wrong with Israel’s right to defend itself?” These moments must continue to be interrupted with awareness and education.   Allowing others to turn away, is to play a role in passively watching a country and ethnic group wiped off the map. Literally. Victims will always exist on both sides, but a neutral and polite position is no longer logical nor okay.

Career and Motherhood

Today my alarm did not go off. I was supposed to be at the store at noon, and I woke up at 12:30 and knew I could not get there until another 2 hours.

While getting dressed, my daughter woke up crying. She had been sick for the past few days with a slight fever due to an ear infection. My husband had been taking care of her these days that I have been working at the store. I had to return to the store because we need the extra cash.

Walking out the door, I here my daughter calling out to me in-between coughs from her room. I stopped, turned around and walked back to my daughter to carry her for a bit. I changed her diaper and rocked her for a few minutes before I started to cry. I didn’t want to go to the store to work today. I wanted to play with my daughter who was suddenly well and happy when I came to her. 

I called the store manager and explained to her that I wouldn’t be coming in today. She understood and gave me the day off.

Going back to the workplace after 15 months, I am going through a lot of emotions. I miss my daughter every second that I am away from her. She goes to daycare for a few hours per day, but it’s not the same when I feel like I am leaving her. Friday night, I came home at 8:30pm and she wasn’t in her usual friendly mood. I blamed myself for being away for so many hours. 

I am currently seeking a full-time job within my own career field, the education industry. It may not be long before I need to start working full-time. I think it’s important for a woman to be independent and work, especially if she has invested so much time in building a career. I also think it’s important for mothers to be mothers. Finding the perfect balance without shredding your emotions apart is an art. This balance depends on women’s ability to act in superhuman ways and do a juggling act in perfect harmony. 

Right now, I am typing this and watching my daughter chasing our cat. Earlier, she was dancing to the tune of Garfield. She also stole my cell phone and ran around the house pretending she was talking to someone on it. It was all hilarious. 

I am glad I stayed home and I thank God for the wisdom and strength to make that decision today. I know that I will not always be able to make this decision and I know there may be moments i will miss. There are many sacrifices that women have to make today in order to pursue careers, achieve independence and be good mothers. These sacrifices causes us to second guess ourselves, blame ourselves and peel at our psychological wellness. 

I pray for my daughter’s growth and that a smile will always be spread across her face. I pray that the bond that holds my husband and I together continues to strengthen. I pray that the efforts that my husband and I have put into our education and into building our careers will foster happiness and reward and never division. I pray that I find my balance and that I never forget that every moment is an important moment.

A Stream of Thoughts on Depression and Death

It’s 4.41pm when I begin writing this post.

Just today, I applied to 17 job postings to which I meet the minimum requirements and qualifications. 17 carefully crafted applications in one day. Each submission bringing a new hope and a different vision of how my life could be. Of the various possibilities of my grown up life.

Over the past few months, I decided that I should begin taking career-searching seriously. I mean, I had been running a business for over 2 years quite successfully and profitably. However, the past two months with the critical illness of my father, I have fallen into a depression.

This is the story of my great depression.

It’s only been two months since my father fell critically ill and my family went through the hell of his near-death experience that eventually lead to an amputation of his right leg. He had lost the left leg to diabetes 18 years ago, when I was eight years old. I still remember when my dad returned home from the hospital after his first amputation. I spent a whole week without looking at him. I was afraid of what I would see (or would not see). I remember him feeling hurt, but taking it slowly with me. Not my brother, though. My brother jumped right on my dad to hug and kiss him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to see it, and I was afraid, but said yes. He showed me the stitch marks and I asked him, “is that it?” I lost my fear. Truth is, that while he had been hospitalized for 3 months, I had convinced myself that he had died and that the father who had returned home was a robot that my mom ordered so that we wouldn’t have to feel so bad about my dad. I had nightmares of my father being a robot for weeks, or months.

Over the past months, I have fallen apart emotionally, psychologically. Waking up in the middle of the night yelling in panic because I had dreamt that I was in the surgery room while surgeons patiently and painstakingly amputated my father’s legs and rewired him back together. Like an automobile. Like the inner plumbing of your kitchen sink. Our bodies. They are nightmares. And doctors, their hands.

Four years ago, I vowed never to have an alcoholic drink again. I became Muslim and this was my big step. Three weeks ago, I had an entire bottle of cheap wine and cried myself to sleep. For those who aren’t regular wine drinkers, the sensation goes like this: you take a sip and get goosebumps all over your body. The hairs stick right up. After a few sips, the cheap wine begins to taste bitter; it never tastes sweet as it should. After many sips, you begin to feel numbness on your skin, hands and things move a bit slower. It’s like anesthesia running through your veins. My husband came home to a mumbling wife. It’s truly tragic to think about what I have become over the months. A depressive maniac who cries and yells from macabre nightmares.

I have another confession. This one is worse, but please just listen. This one made me cry for a long time. Two weeks ago, I decided to spend the day with my 15 month year old daughter, so I kept her from daycare. I went to the yarn store with her because I wanted to make her something warm for the approaching cold weather. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I left her inside the car. I did. She grew quiet while driving and since I wasn’t used to having her with me during the week, I simply forgot her and left her in the car when I went shopping. My hairs are raised just remembering what I did–to remember that my daughter could potentially suffocate because my head is no longer clear. It’s a confession that I am deeply ashamed and disturbed by. At the store, I suddenly remembered that my baby was in the car, dropped the 6 packs of holiday-colored ribbons on the ground and ran out of the store screaming with tears in my eyes. When I found her she was sweating, but she was okay. Thank God. She was okay. I cried myself to sleep that night too and had more nightmares. My head is no longer clear. I love my daughter and am usually the best mother. But, this day, I failed.

I applied to 17 jobs today, because I need healthcare. My husband’s healthcare cannot be extended to us (for reasons I can’t go into now), and I need healthcare. I end up tossing myself in cold showers every time I get a fever as to avoid the hospital. Over the past 6 months, I have applied to over 80 jobs that I qualify for and nothing. Nothing to show for a Master’s degree and plenty of unpaid student loans. No way to pay those loans back without a steady job. Lenders won’t stop calling and I tell them the same story, “I am unemployed, cannot pay anything and that I wish I could.” I really wish I could pay my bills–it leaves me satisfied and I used to enjoy watching my credit score go up a few points each time I paid off any bill.

After my father’s amputation 1 month ago, I lost interest in my consulting business and just let it fall apart slowly. I get work every now and then, but mostly, I get a bunch of hagglers. My desperation stinks and they can smell it. What I used to charge Whole Foods value, I now charge at Walmart price. I hate being the Walmart of College Consulting. It’s pathetic.

I really need to know if we are going through a something like the 1930s Great Depression. There has to be an explanation why I cannot find employment with a Master’s degree. I remind myself that I am bilingual, fairly good looking (looks count), smart, have 3 degree all with honors, solid work experience, I have so many skills…I am a good catch. Yes, there must be another explanation about things that are beyond out control.

I bomb most interview. Never get the job. Yet, I am overqualified for any minimum wage job to get by until I find a good position. Most employers think that someone with a Master’s will demand a higher salary, so they simply never call. People without college degree, I think, tend to stay at their jobs for longer periods of time because they are perceived as less ambitious. I am not ambitious. I just need to be employed. I need healthcare.

It’s 4am and I am staring at my computer, rewriting this post, yet it all sounds like the same old thing.

Watching Chuck on Netflix.

I prayed today, but I didn’t feel anything. That anesthetic effect is taking over me, but I can still feel my husband toes on my toes. I measure his love by his efforts to intertwine his legs and toes with mine while he sleeps. This is the measurement of love. Of affection. Of marriage.

Hands are numb and it’s getting hard to type.

High tides; A love story.

I used to believe that we shared things–
Like the moon.

And I trusted that a current would instinctually bring us together
The same way in which birds flock to the South in the Winter.
We were part of natural order.

I used to believe that all things were written in a large, unalterable Book;
but I learned that God never paid attention to the details.
We write those ourselves.

When I learned you were back, I was in traffic–
waiting for the light to change.
I knew I would not call, so I rolled down my window–
taking a deep breath.

I still believe that we share things–
like the salty, coastline wind;
and that the tides reconcile our differences.

As time dissipates and waves wear at our spirits,
I search for a trinket–
a manifestation of a good memory; my good story.
It makes me feel juvenile.

I believe we share things–
like recollections of springtide.

[A draft, always].

I Want to Speak to the Owner!

I am a business owner now. And manager. And customer service. And secretary. And filing clerk.

This is the feeling of having a brand new business that has been slowly, but surely, rising.

Didn’t someone once make a song about “mo money, mo problem?” I don’t want to make it seem like I am rolling in hundred dollar bills, or anything like that. It isn’t like that at all. But, I would say, “mo clients, mo problems.” My advertiser does a good job, so the clients are there, I guess.

I, however, am trying to find a way to divide myself between various positions, perform various tasks, without driving myself into insanity.

As owner, I am the boss lady. I guess. I am also the one responsible for taking sure my clients are happy. For the most part, they are happy enough to refer friends. My business thrives on “word of mouth.” And, customer service is crucial.

I started doing customer service since I was 16 years old at David’s Bridal. Had that gig for 6 years on and off. Was pretty good at it; enough for them to take me between college semester, or on my summer vacation while in grad school. I was pretty good at customer service. Looking back, I know that the secret to good customer service is to have someone who is not emotionally involved in the business to do it. Did I give a damn about David’s Bridal? Not really. Did I care that a customer did not like the ugly bridesmaid dress? Not really. My job was to be nice and solve the problem so that the client leaves with a smile on their face.

After 6 years, I thought I had this customer service gig down to the T. Over this past week, I realized I have lots to learn.

It all started last week when one of my clients suddenly demanded a refund. We had done half the work he paid for, had been working on his file for 4 weeks, and our invoice clearly states 80% REFUND WITHIN THE FIRST 48 HOURS OF PAYMENT. There’s a logic to my ‘no refund policy”. First, I only take about 8 clients per month (it’s impossible to take more at this time). Secondly, I begin a client’s file within the first 48 hours, so some time is spent. Lastly, Paypal charges me a processing fee for accepting money AND returning. Refunding is really a hassle; therefore, it is clearly explained at time of pay.

Back to the story. Client demands full refund. His reason was that I had only done half the work; therefore, he was entitled to a full refund (?)! Of course, I said in my head: no fucking freaking way dude I just worked on your file, edited your essays, created your personal statement, searched for graduate programs for you and had two scheduled consulting conferences. WTF?” Of course, all this was communicated professionally through e-mail. Guy goes nuts and begins to trash me on my Twitter advertising page. Guy grabs all my potential clients and calls me a THIEF! A THIEF! I let it go on for a few days until he grew tired; thought he did, and later realized that he was using a second profile to continue to spam my clients.

Today, I needed to put a stop to this. He was undeservedly accusing me of lying and stealing. STEALING! Oh my God! My potential clients were believing this, and they avoided me like the plague. I called him, so that he can answer to me. I wanted to hear the shame in his voice.

I told him calmly: “why are you doing this, if you KNOW we have given you exactly as you paid for?”

He said, “I want my money back! I want my money back!”

I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair that we work and don’t get paid?”

He said, “I changed my mind. I want my money back! If I get money back, I will stop on Twitter?”

I told him, “Should I say thank you for putting a stop to your lies on Twitter?”

He said, “I don’t care. I just want my money back.”

I FUCKING LOSE IT AT THIS POINT. TEARS, SCREAMING, AND ALL!

I said, “Listen, Rayed, YOU are the liar, the thief and what you have been doing to me will come back to you much harder!”

He said, “I am Muslim, I am honest, and I just want my money back.”

I said, “Honest person? You defamed me and my business AFTER I worked honestly for you! You call me a liar after I have tried repeatedly to cooperate with you! You take my clients away from me, when I am simply trying to make an honest living…! A Muslim does NOT act like this! I work so hard everyday to build what I have for the sake of my family. YOU HAVE A BLACK HEART!”

I actually told the guy that he has a BLACK HEART (lol). I have to laugh now, because I am done with crying.

I finished the conversation with, “I will give you your entire money back today. I am worth more than $XXX.XX.” I hung up the phone, cried and sobbed in my car outside my office for a good 10 minutes.

The guy calls me back and begins to apologize, “I am very sorry, Cristina. I was very wrong. I took down everything from Twitter. I don’t want my money back anymore.I’m very sorry.”

I said to him, “I don’t want any favors, nor money from you. You can’t repair the damages you have done with your lying. What you did to me will happen to you, and it will cost you more than your refund.”

After months of not blogging, this experience has prompted me to write. Writing is my therapy, and I feel like a broken person today. Rayed did not break me. My inability to do everything well at the same time; the impossible task of making every single client happy; the struggle to divide myself into a million pieces as I try to build the foundations of my business. Every dollar I work for, I feel its gain and its loss, because I put my soul into my work. I feel deteriorated today. I feel so tired. I just want to take a bubble bath, get into my PJs and sleep a good sleep.

Business exhausts. Trying to be fair, yet firm, has made me tired. My business is at its birth, yet, it is growing strong. Someone comes along to damage what I have built, yet I know these are the responsibilities that come with managing a business. The customer is always right, they say. How about when he is dead wrong?

I wanted to finally make Rayed see me as a human being, so I let him hear me cry to make him feel.

Finally, he felt. And tonight, I just feel for myself.

The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

“Take care of her, [Muhammed*],” says a relative every time my husband and I leave her house after a weekend visit.

Muhammed: “Why doesn’t she ever tell you to take care of me? After all, I’m the poor guy who needs the extra care…” He laughs it off every time, but deep inside I know that he feels confused as to why anyone would believe otherwise; that is, that anyone would think that Muhammed would do anything else other than take care of me.

I had never thought about my relative’s weekly comments until I started to see the slight hurt on my husband’s face. I had never really thought about it much until we began to receive other similar comments from other relatives and friends: “If you hurt her, I’ll have to kill you…” or “You’re a lucky guy, Muhammed, take care of her…”

I have also received warnings from friends and strangers in casual conversation. “Make sure Muhammed doesn’t take you away to Arabia because we’ll never see you again…” or “Have you seen the movie Not Without My Daughter?” or “Did you husband make you convert?”

These questions and comments are all delivered half-jokingly/half-threatningly and followed with laughter. The truth is, however, that I know that some people who make these comments are usually waiting for my response so that they can cast away their doubt about my Villainous Husband. Others are watching, waiting and counting mistakes so they can say “I told you so,” never stopping to think that attributing someone’s flaws to their race and religion–rather than the fact that were all flawed human beings–is ignorance at the very least.

When I think about my protective, yet gentle and loving, husband, I feel hurt. I cannot understand the constant suspicion and mistrust towards another human being without cause.

The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the volatile, controlling, sexually perverse and abusive Arab Muslim man is alive and well. 

I remember the sensitivity he felt the day he saw our unborn baby kick her chubby feet at our first ultrasound. Afterwards, he pridefully insisted that our child should bear his first and last name so that everyone would know exactly who her daddy is! I admire the quiet way he washes the dishes on the nights when I cook dinner (the rule at our house is: one cooks, the other cleans). I am thankful for the many times he has encouraged me to pray with him. I am amused when my husband walks to the left of me because he believes he is protecting me from wierdos and speeding cars. I am grateful when he pulls back my hair and rubs my shoulders when I have morning sickness. And, I won’t forget the night he made a healing balm from olive oil and Shea butter to rub on my aching back because I had been crying from the pain. I remember the worth I felt when he bragged to his family about his “smart” wife working on her Ph.D. I laugh when he suggestively picks out matching sweaters and scarves from my side of the closet when he thinks my chest is overexposed (a habit that reminds me of my own Cuban-Catholic father and brother). These flawed, yet well-intentioned, men. Villains, indeed.

My husband is my crutch.

On my last visit home, I snarked back at a relative’s comment: “You know, he beat me senseless yesterday. Look at these bruises (I pointed at my behind)! These Arab men! But, I beat him right back…” My relative rolled her eyes and silenced up. Afterwards, my husband said that I shouldn’t have made that remark and should simply ignore the comments next time.

My husband teaches me patience and back-bending respect.

I chose my husband because I know him and–flaws and all–I love him. The partner in my life, the self-proclaimed protector of our home, the proud father of our unborn child. Yes, this is the Arab Villain I have married.

The comments my husband and I have received have never been made with intentional hatred nor with an effort to inflict pain. On the contrary, they have been made from people who love us. The comments, however, reflect a larger problem in the way we (members of society) are constantly misinformed by the media about who “We” are and who “Others” are. More specifically, about who “Westerners” are and who “Middle Easterners” and Muslims are. We lack insight on this false dichotomy and forget that people are sometimes simply just people.

As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do not hold these comments personally against anyone. Instead, I hope that my story serves as an example of how our unconscious ignorance really does affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process. Most importantly, I hope that we could arrive at the realization that knowing someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background does not mean we know a darn thing about who they are as people. 

*Muhammed is a pseudonym.