As a first generation immigrant, multiple cultures blend together to form my identity


Photo Illustration Connor Lawless

Online Editor Natalie Sadek tells her story as a first generation immigrant struggling to define herself by a single culture, eventually realizing she could embrace both her Egyptian and American sides.

Natalie Sadek, Online Editor

When I filled out a job application my sophomore year, I was asked to check the box of the culture I identify with. Although that question had no wrong answer, that did not make it any easier for me to answer, simply because I didn’t know the answer.

My parents took a leap of faith and decided to leave everything they knew in Egypt and go to graduate school in America 20 years ago. But they both also thought they would move back the minute they graduated. Plot twist: they didn’t. Instead they decided to stay in America, move into a nice suburb and have three kids, creating a completely different lifestyle than they had previously known.

Although my parents decided to stay in America, they made sure their kids were very aware of Egyptian culture, making our home infused with multilingual conversations, Arabic songs and all sorts of cultural foods. I made most of my best childhood friends on the sole commonality that both of our families were Egyptian.

I was always told that I was Egyptian, and to a certain degree I agreed with that.

However, when I went to school, I was taught what it meant to be American. As I got more involved with my friends from school, I would go to their houses and see how different life was for other people. At the end of they day, although at home I was Egyptian, at school and with my friends I was told that I was American.

When I visited Egypt this past November, it felt like home. The city, the people, the family, the language- it all had a level of comfort I have never experienced anywhere else. Nonetheless, I still felt like an outsider. I fell in love with Egypt, but it didn’t fully recognize or accept me back. My Arabic was tainted with a heavy accent, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed outside of the house without my brother or my dad, and I definitely didn’t know why I couldn’t wear a dress unless it covered my ankles.

For a long time, I never knew what I identified as. When I went to school I was an average American teenager, and when I came home I was Egyptian. A lot of other first- generation Americans have extremely similar stories.

As a first-generation American, I am a mix of Egyptian and American. I love falafel, but I also love chicken nuggets. I am extremely loud when I get excited, and I can watch Netflix for hours at a time. People stare at my family when we go to the airport, and my family can vote.

I am lucky enough to have not just one, but two cultures I am able to identify with and enjoy. Being a first generation American has taught me to enjoy all cultures while being proud of mine, no matter how mixed I am. I am comprised of pieces of both sides making a unique mosaic of culture and ideas.

As a society, we are consumed by labels, names and borders. Since the beginning of time people have sought to identify with a certain group, however we now we live in a culture where it is impossible to identify with one single label.

Instead of pressuring people to fit with one culture, one identity, we should embrace how living in America fosters a different identity within every household. Nobody is simply one thing, so let’s embrace the fact that we are all diverse.