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Your Identity is What You Make It

My identity has been something that I have questioned with my whole life. My father is Sri Lankan, and my mother is American. They come from two very different worlds – one the son of a tailor who lived in a small village, and the other the daughter of an auditor at the Federal Reserve in New York. They met in Tanzania, while working in refugee camps after the Rwandan genocide, and soon afterwards got married in Sri Lanka. My relatives live in all corners of the world and are all exceedingly different.

Being multiracial and having international roots, I was lucky to have the opportunity to grow up in different countries, and to have my feet planted in the roots of both my parents’ cultures. Going to international schools, then moving to the US were experiences that have made me aware of my identity, and has forced me to think about how others view me as a woman, Muslim, American, foreigner, or anything else.

By diverse background has been a source of constant learning and has shaped my mindset to be more accepting and globally minded. But being biracial and having international roots can often mean being invisible as well. My body is a battleground of two nations and cultures, constantly vying to be defining parts of my story. I am simultaneously my mother’s child and my father’s biological heir, and balancing the two can sometimes feel impossible.

I often find myself puzzling over how I’m being read. Do my white family members not see me in the room when they say “Muslims need to get out of the country?” When people ask me “What are you?” do they mean it in a good way? Why do people always think guessing my race is a game?

It can be hard to talk about the complexity of identity, when undoubtedly many people will not identify with my experiences. When sellers in the souk (market) in Morocco ask me where I’m from, “America” doesn’t normally satisfy them. “No, where are you really from?” is normally the next question. However, overtime I’ve learned to embrace these types of questions and laugh about them – they show that although my unique sense of identity can be confusing, it is also a sense of pride and has given me a perspective that most people do not have.