It is hard to be a Moroccan American because you feel as though you don’t belong anywhere. Let me tell you about my experiences being Moroccan American because I know I am not the only one to face these struggles.
First, the language barrier can be a major obstacle. Growing up in Morocco, English was not widely practiced. The Moroccan dialect was my first language, French was my second, and Arabic was the language we learned in school. I started learning English at a later age, and even with that, I first learned British English, then later learned American English before learning Spanish and a couple of other languages.
My brain takes the time to process the language I am going to speak at any given moment. I may be in the middle of speaking English and other languages may get in the way, or I won’t be able to find a word in that specific language. Because of these many languages, I have an accent in every one I speak. Therefore, the obstacle of an accent has always been an issue when I used to apply for jobs. Although I have a great command of the English language, the accent can still pose an obstacle when competing for executive contracts as a woman and minority business owner.
Besides the language barrier, there is the feeling of belonging. Being a Moroccan American feels like I don’t belong in either the United States or in Morocco. For Americans (whatever that means) I will always remain a foreigner, although I am more American than most Americans that were born in the United States.
Here is where it gets complicated. When I visit Morocco, my family thinks I am too American. Even when I am out walking around the medina, people I talk to can detect or sense that I am not a local. Long ago, I accidentally offended a chef at a hotel with the way I communicated with him—I was too direct—and within my own local community of Moroccan Americans, I still sometimes feel I am too different.
In another dimension, I was always brought up believing I was African, and for all accounts and purposes, I am. I have so much African in me. I was born and raised in a country located in northwest Africa—and being raised and immersed in the culture in my most formative years should ensure that that is clear.
Though upon coming to the United States, I was told that I was not, in fact, African. I was told that I had to be Black to be accepted as African. Thinking back to that moment, it feels like the beginning of my understanding that the US deals with culture, race, color, and ethnicity in a vastly different way.
That wasn’t the last time I would be told what I was or what I was not. By peers and by government standards, I was placed into many boxes that just did not make sense. I was told that since I could not be African, I had to be Arab or Middle Eastern, because I was Muslim and because I just had that look, but there too I was passed on. I was told, some of the roots of your culture can be found here but they are not the same, you do not belong here. I also get mistaken as a Latina and people sometimes start speaking to me in Spanish. Luckily, I know the language, but when I tell them I am not Latina, you can feel an immediate sense of alienation—it feels like you are not us. I was then handed to the next culture, the next category, the next group of people who told me again that I was not the right fit, or the right culture, or the right look. Even various government entities do not agree on what race or ethnicity I am.
People from other diverse cultures, when they live in the US, often must make the choice whether to be accommodating and assimilate themselves or to face various ramifications.
Here is another dilemma, The very first thing most people learn about you after speaking with you is your name, and for many of us Moroccan Americans, we find ourselves changing our names to make them easier to pronounce or more palatable for those in the US. Changing something so seemingly simple as a name can cause a feeling of lost identity. Struggles with identity in situations like this can be felt by numerous diasporas.
In many instances, international migrants or people who are multicultural have felt rejected by their different cultures and can feel isolated because of that. Feeling like your identities conflict with one another can bring a whole host of problems. It can make people feel unsupported or give them a warped sense of self. Some may feel shame for “failing” to uphold traditions expected of them by their family or their culture. People in conflict with their cultures can also feel a greater sense of marginalization from their own culture, their family, and their friends.
Living in the United States, it often feels like every part of me must be quantified into exact pieces or proportions to be palatable, but I see my experience as a vehicle for growth. The country of Morocco, with its diverse culture and distinct types of people and religions, known for sharing and inviting others to do the same, has shaped me to be more flexible and creative in my thinking. Growing up as a part of many diverse cultures is not a privilege that everyone can have. I am proud of my heritage, and I am also proud to be an American citizen. My experience is a benefit to me and has proved to be an asset and a vehicle for tremendous success.
Without it, and without the struggles regarding race, ethnicity, religion, and culture I have witnessed within the United States, I would not have been propelled to find a space to speak and teach those who are seeking to become more culturally aware and inclusive. I wish people can be more understanding or accommodating towards those who share this struggle.
I feel now, more than ever, that people are openly talking about living in a place or community that was not originally built for them. To anyone reading this, whether you are Moroccan American, Mexican American, Russian American, or any combination of cultures, I want to tell you to embrace it. You have the best of both worlds. Do not be ashamed and be open to sharing your experiences.
After all, we are all one family, the human family.
Mona Lou International (MLI) offers customized consulting, training, and development services to help your business thrive in the new global arena. MLI empowers businesses to seize opportunities to create more prosperous cross-cultural business relations and partnerships.
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