The Best of Both Worlds

Lila - Niskayuna, New York
Entered on February 7, 2009
Age Group: Under 18

As the first generation of this family growing up in the United

States, it became difficult for me to adjust to the social norms of American life, while receiving the cultural values of Afghanistan from my family. This experience defined who I am as a person and what I have become to make me unique. I believe that I am still learning from both cultures and it is this multi-cultural background that makes me unique.

My family tried to raise me as if I still lived in Afghanistan by treating me inferior to the boys and sheltering me from the American culture that they found very different and appalling. They taught me the Afghan ideals of family unity and respect for the elders but as I went to school I learned that there was more then just that. I learned about the American ideals of equality and it became more difficult for me to relate to the Afghan culture because I realized that I could not engage in the activities that other children my age were because of my culture.

The days that changed my views of me and my culture occurred shortly after September 11, 2001. I had just started the 4th grade at the time of the September 11 attacks and it proved to be a very scary time for me because words that I associated myself with, such as Afghan and Muslim became terrorism. A couple days after the attack, a group of three classmates came up to me and nervously asked where I was from. I proudly answered, “I was born here, but my parents were born in Afghanistan.” The three kids just looked silently at each other and turned to sit to the table next to me. I could here the muffled sound of them talking about me to other kids and the mumbled sounds of “terrorist” and “she’s dangerous”.

This moment proved to be very self defining because I recognized that I wanted to stand up for my culture and my origins. I took pride in my culture and origin and became very offended when the other kids where making fun of not only me, but my family and the morals that I grew up on. This experience proved that I could implement some of the American ideals while also keeping some of the traditional Afghan culture such as the family respect taught by my parents. It made me realize that I was privileged to be born in an Afghan family and grow up in America because I could educate people, such as my classmates, about both cultures.

Through the two cultures that I have grown up in I have learned a lot about myself. The Afghan culture and the Islamic religion have shown me how to respect myself and my family while the American culture has shown me equality. The two cultures that I have grown up in have defined me as a person, which is why I believe I am unique.