Been on a date? You’re going to hell.

Dating can be a complicated issue for most people, let alone those with conservative, recently immigrated (or possibly still back home, but no less present) parents. Despite my father being Arab, Muslim and notoriously overprotective when compared to my friend's 'rents, he is liberal in many respects and I didn't have to deal with any considerable drama surrounding the topic.

 

Sure, when I was in high school, I was convinced that he was out to ruin my life. It didn't help that my mother was also on his side (nobody rivals Arab nuttiness in respect to female virtue better than a Sicilian).

 

Our usual conversation from ages 13-16 went something like this:

Me: I want to date.

Dad: No.

Me: All my friends have boyfriends!

Mom: All of your friends probably have venereal diseases, too. What's your point?

 

So, yeah, that didn't go over too well. Now it's a different ball game. My parents wouldn't dream of intruding on my private life, although my father does inquire often if I have a boyfriend before hastily warning me not to get married because "[He] is not ready!" They don't tell me who or what kind of people I can or cannot date, other than reminding me to use my best judgment. Recently, my friend's mother was taken aback when, after presuming that my father would forbid me from dating/marrying someone Jewish, I responded that he wouldn't mind - as long as they were nice looking (ahh, my father's superficiality at its finest). I imagined that most other Arab Americans of my generation had similar situations. More conservative on the subject than other Americans, sure, but surely not as rigid as what our grandparents went through.

 

Apparently, I'm wrong.

 

As you've probably gleaned from my earlier post, I spend way too much time on social networking sites - MySpace and Facebook being my biggest weaknesses. Recently, I've become embroiled in numerous debates in a group on the latter of the two sites (embarrassingly named "Sexiest Arabs on Facebook"...and yes, I did cringe as I typed that). The most heated discourses revolved around the idea of so-called mixed marriages and dating in general. The reaction to the propriety of both was mostly out-right opposition and disgust. I have to admit that I was shocked at the level of conservatism exhibited by others more or less in my age range. Use of the word "haram" was thrown around more times than I could count. Basically, as a product of a mixed union and of parents who (*shock* *gasp* *horror*) dated before they married, my very existence is one of sin. Gee, thanks.

 

Of course, I take this all with a grain of salt and understand that everybody is entitled to embrace (or disregard) whatever cultural institution they wish, but I have to wonder - how do we balance being a "good Arab girl/boy/other" with being a "normal" American? Is it even possible and if it is, is our culture suffering for the sake of assimilation?

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About Josephine Zohny

Josephine Zohny was born to an Italian-American mother and an Egyptian-born father in Pittsburgh, PA. She grew up in the Washington, DC metropolitan area and moved to New York City shortly before the September 11th attacks to attend college. She received a B.A. in Music Business, Writing (Creative Non-fiction) and Race and Ethnic Studies from NYU in 2005. She is currently the Director of Entertainment Publicity for WeRoqq Publicity and Promotion, primarily representing hip-hop and r&b artists. Her writings on music, pop culture and critical race theory have appeared on PopMatters.com, EURWeb and in Colorlines and Z!nk, among other outlets and publications. She is intensely interested in the issues of ethnic identity as it pertains to Arabs, both in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in the diaspora. Her personal blog can be found at www.jzohny.com.

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