Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Stand Against Racism: Creating Bridges and not Barriers

My mother emigrated to the United States in the late 1960s. She was forced to leave her homeland for political reasons and it was the most difficult decision she ever made. After arriving here, she yearned for the familiarity of her culture and people. But going back was not an option, so she was forced to build a new life in unfamiliar territory.

Similar to the plight of immigrants before and after her, my mother tried desperately to hold on to the customs of her homeland. She associated only with those from her culture and firmly clutched her traditions, which meant there was no room for assimilation. But my mother's actions were never ill-intentioned, she merely wanted to remember her former life.

This caused a great challenge for  my siblings and me. We wanted to bond with our friends and neighbors, to branch out beyond my mother's ancestral background. Not that we weren't allowed to play with children of other ethnicities, but she preferred we affiliate with those from her culture. It was her way of ensuring we never forget our identity. Instead, it divided us from our friends who were also children of immigrants. They found our customs and language strange, so they insulted us.

This isolated my siblings and me from our neighbors and, in turn, created stereotypes in our young minds. My friends found us strange and instead of seeing their treatment for what it was, we believed it was a by-product of their own cultural backgrounds.

What my mother didn't know at the time was that she was strengthening the stereotypes that many Americans hold about the Middle East. By not allowing outsiders into our lives, she was failing to let them see the richness and beauty of our people and traditions.

Sometimes, in our quest for the familiar we build barriers that lead to racism. Reaching out to people outside our circles helps mitigate that racism. I discovered this while raising my own children. While traveling and living abroad, I made it my goal to build bridges by getting to know my neighbors, regardless of their politics, religion, or ethnicity. By doing so, I have invited others to see my culture for what it truly is: a proud and peaceful one.

This post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival – we invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism. - See more at:

Oraynab Mohamad is an accountant in Oklahoma City. She holds an MBA and BS in Accounting. She manages her personal blog at and volunteers as an Economic Empowerment instructor for the YWCA, Oklahoma City branch. you can reach her at

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