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My name is Hanan Hassan, and I was born on September 21, 1992, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I am the eldest of nine children, with four sisters, including myself, and five brothers. While I may appear to be an ordinary twenty-one-year-old balancing work and school, there is more to my life than meets the eye. I have assumed the role of a second mother within my household, taking on responsibilities beyond my years. While my mother is alive and well, I was taught from a young age to be responsible and accountable, essentially maturing ahead of my time.
This essay delves into my unique upbringing, shaped by three distinct cultures, highlighting the impact of each on my identity.
My life has been a tapestry woven from the threads of three different cultures. Despite the diversity of my experiences, I identify most strongly with the culture in which I was born: Somali. It is my ethnicity, the core of my identity, and the foundation upon which I build my understanding of the world.
It's important to distinguish between nationality and ethnicity. My nationality is a product of my place of birth, Saudi Arabia, while my ethnicity, Somali, defines who I am. Growing up, I grappled with the intricacies of both identities. In Saudi Arabia, I was surrounded by Arab culture, and my interactions with fellow Somalis were primarily limited to my family.
When I arrived in the United States, I experienced a profound culture shock. One of the most striking differences was in the realm of religion.
In Saudi Arabia, mosques were abundant, and the call to prayer resounded from minarets, unifying the community in worship. However, in the U.S., churches dominated the landscape, and the call to prayer was conspicuously absent. This stark contrast challenged my religious experiences and shaped my perception of the world.
Moreover, the cultural celebrations in the United States, particularly during the winter holiday season, presented a new perspective. Even though I don't celebrate Christmas, the festive atmosphere and community spirit that enveloped the country during this time made me feel connected and included. However, when it came to celebrating Eid, the Muslim holiday, it lacked the vibrancy and communal togetherness that characterized my childhood memories in Saudi Arabia.
The divergence between American culture and the cultures of my upbringing extended to various facets of life, including dress codes, family dynamics, religion, and gender roles. For instance, Saudi Arabian culture emphasizes modesty, particularly for women. Women are expected to dress conservatively, covering themselves from head to toe. This emphasis on modesty is rooted in religious and cultural traditions.
Conversely, in the United States, personal choice plays a significant role in clothing decisions. Women have the freedom to choose whether to cover or not, and there are no legal consequences for their choices. This marked contrast in dress codes highlights the intersection of culture and religion, shaping individuals' choices and freedoms.
In terms of family dynamics, my experiences differed greatly. In Saudi Arabia, traditional gender roles were more pronounced, with women typically taking on domestic responsibilities, including cooking and cleaning. Men, on the other hand, assumed roles as breadwinners and were primarily responsible for external tasks. Additionally, women in Saudi Arabia faced restrictions, such as not being allowed to drive.
Upon arriving in the United States, I encountered a society that promoted independence and equal opportunities for all genders. Women here were encouraged to voice their opinions and pursue their goals. Witnessing the stark contrast between gender roles in Saudi Arabia and the United States further underscored the influence of culture on societal norms.
Despite the challenges of navigating these diverse cultural landscapes, I learned to adapt and appreciate the positives and negatives of each culture. While some aspects of these cultures did not align with my personal beliefs, they collectively contributed to my growth as an open-minded individual with a rich multicultural background.
My multicultural upbringing has equipped me with a unique perspective on life. It has allowed me to appreciate the diversity of cultures, traditions, and worldviews that shape our global community. I firmly believe that understanding and embracing multiculturalism is essential for personal growth and for fostering empathy and tolerance among individuals.
Living within various cultures has not only taught me responsibility, but it has also instilled in me a sense of independence and adaptability. I have learned to navigate between cultures, balancing my Somali roots with the American culture that surrounds me. This duality has allowed me to become a more versatile individual with a deeper appreciation for the world's complexities.
Furthermore, being multilingual, speaking Arabic, English, and Somali, has been an invaluable asset. It has enabled me to communicate effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds, breaking down language barriers and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
Ultimately, I have come to realize that our roots and ethnicities profoundly influence our identities. Exploring other cultures has given me a broader perspective on the world and has allowed me to appreciate the beauty of our interconnectedness. As individuals, we should actively pursue an understanding of the cultures that surround us, as it leads to personal growth, enriches our lives, and enhances our ability to empathize with others.
My journey through multiple cultures, from Saudi Arabia to the United States, and my deep-rooted Somali ethnicity, have collectively shaped my identity and worldview. Each culture has contributed unique values and lessons, fostering my personal growth and molding me into the open-minded individual I am today.
While it has been a challenging journey to navigate the differences between these cultures, I have gained a profound appreciation for the richness of diversity. My multicultural background has not only made me more responsible and adaptable but has also enabled me to communicate effectively across cultures and languages.
Embracing multiculturalism is not just an aspect of my identity; it is a core principle that guides my interactions with the world. As I continue to explore and celebrate different cultures, I am reminded of the importance of understanding, tolerance, and empathy in our interconnected global community.
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