Reflections: An Experience

When a person migrates to a new society, the society, from its institutions to its actors, expects the migrants to navigate the socio-cultural terrain of their new home. They expect them to accept the imposition of social categories to fit into their new society. Social categories of race, gender, and other markers are constructed based on society’s historical and current fabric.

What happens when people raised within a different social landscape ultimately emigrate to a new locality? How does one first begin to traverse a new social terrain when there is no language to explain the complexities of their identities, ones that seemingly and metaphorically belong to an old place and life?

As the eldest daughter of two Sudanese immigrants to the United States, this question was a central interlocutor in many formative experiences regarding race, religion, and culture. While attending Florida International University, I was selected as a student speaker for the 2016 TEDxFIU conference, with the highlighted theme being “Unexpected Discoveries.” I sought to share and attempt to address the complexities of Sudanese identity within the rigid racialized American landscape.

Looking back, I often chuckle at my early experiences. It was marked by the awkward innocence of childhood as I clumsily sought to make sense of who I was in relation to my surroundings.

I’ve come to articulate my Sudanese identity as a Black Afro-Arab. However, translating these words is difficult, particularly as each word has its own social life and history, marked with cultural nuance. It’s important to note that social identities are precisely that - constructs shaped by a history that continues to progress and adapt.

What does it mean to be Black? What are the political dimensions of this identity? What does it mean to be Arab in the panethnic sense of the word? As such, one can note the difficulty in capturing the unique story of Sudanese ethnicity and how American racial categories, while assumed to offer a universal box for everyone to check, are captive to their histories and simply force social impositions on migrants. One could say this is the inherent struggle of the migrant’s story.

While preparing for my TEDx speech, I struggled a lot with how to express these ideas in a limited form. Do I begin with an introduction to American racial history? Or do I start with a bold statement to hook my audience? My incredibly insightful speech coach stated, “Why don’t you start with a story? If you think the topic is complex, take us from the beginning with you. And don’t be scared to be funny. “Yes! That simple but illuminating direction was the start I needed.

TEDxTalks, at its core, is a platform to connect with others by sharing stories. Slowly, my script transformed from a critical lecture into an engaging life story of how I, as a little girl, grew up in America and shared unique insights into my family and Islamic school experiences.

I performed my piece when I was 19 years old. Years later, as I look back, I’m met with awkward contentment and a desire to evolve my performance piece to make it more meaningful and play with different artistic directions.

Author’s Bio: Isra Ibrahim

Isra Ibrahim Amin received her Masters of Biomedical Sciences (MBS) at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. She works as an executive assistant at Miami Modest Fashion Week (MMFW).

Here is the link to the actual talk, have a listen and see if you can relate.


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