Lost in Between
Contributed by Yumna Al-Adeimi, Canada   
Friday, 01 June 2007
melting_potDuring a recent visit to a pastry shop in Dearborn, Michigan, three flashy boys stood in front of me as I impatiently waited in line to order some Lebanese Kunafa.  I couldn’t help ignore their attempts to live up to the 50 cent image that was overshadowed by their heavy Middle-Eastern accent. 

The picture became even more humorous when they uttered a couple of Arabic swear words… Yemeni style. 

When I revisit that seemingly pointless observation, I can imagine an elderly Yemeni man scolding one of these boys to pull up his pants and to walk like a man.  I also imagine a Yemeni woman seeing these youth as Westernized fools who don’t know what being Muslim or Yemeni is all about.  That may be true, but these accusations (which you may be familiar with if you are of Yemeni roots and living abroad) are based on the false assumption that youth blindly seek to follow that which is Western.  Such accusations completely miss out on the conscious attempts youth engage in to shape their identities.

Who am I?

Am I Yemeni, Muslim, or both? Is that cool? Can I go through the day without being disrespected or marginalized for being different?  Will they respect me if I change the way I dress?  Will my circle of friends be larger if I change the way I think?  Will I be able to get better jobs if I look like them?  Will those comments and looks stop if I look less Yemeni, Muslim or both? 

Will people accept me?

Some may consider these questions as narcissistic, self-centered, and idiotic.  But in reality, most of us are trying to figure out who we are and how we can fit in seamlessly, without being classified as “the other”.   

The expressions of these struggles are manifested in the way youth choose to assimilate, either by getting drunk on the weekend to enforce the idea that they ‘fit in’, or by dressing a certain way to gain the attention and respect of their peers.  We have all known (or at least heard of) a Mohammad who has become a Moe, or the quiet Saeed who used to come to school in slacks and the tucked in shirt, but is now Sam the gangsta.

Unfortunately this very real struggle that youth engage in to construct their identities is belittled by some elders who don’t understand and appreciate the importance of the shaping and transitioning of identities.  These parents and community members don’t realize that outside of the home youth face a daily battle when their cultural expectations collide with that of their Western environment.

Considering the collectivist nature of Yemeni society, some parents assume that the focus should be on inherited social constructions and the family rather than the immediate context and individuality of the child.  And so girls are reared to cook and clean while boys are reared to earn and defend – all for the sake of the collective. 

Such an approach facilitates the ignorance of root problems and permits a black and white analysis.  And so the focus of some parents rests on dichotomies: girls are pious if they wear the hijab and shameless if they don’t.  Boys are honourable if they marry a Yemeni girl and a burden if they bring a girlfriend home. As though a scarf on the head is conducive to piety and a cultural homogenous marriage is conducive to happiness.  Basically: Yemeni culture is good, American culture is bad.   And of course, the definition of being Yemeni can only be defined by the experiences of these elders and not that of the youth. 

Perhaps I have been harsh on parents.  And perhaps such a parenting style is based on genuine attempts to hold a family together within an unfamiliar environment.  But sadly, this approach has only led to the breakdown of families.  It has become common news to hear about the pious daughter who comes home with the protection of the cops so she can gather her belongings and move in with her boyfriend, and the honorable boy who is married to his cousin, reveals he has a child with another woman. 

So who is to blame for the outcomes of identity struggles that are not addressed early on: A struggling youth attempting to make sense of her identity and lacking the support from friends and family?  How about the Western values that push youth to rebel? Or the Yemeni traditions, that restrain the expression of youth?  Or could we daringly point fingers to a parenting style that is built on quicksand? 

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  Comments (15)
 1 Critical Issue
Written by Mona, on 03-06-2007 07:04
I thnik the problem comes from the lack of self-confidence Muslim people have in general in the West. Why do we always have to prove ourselves to the white? Why do we want to act like them to get accepted?  
Guess what? WE WILL NEVER BE LIKE THEM no matter what we do to impress them. 
"We have all known (or at least heard of) a Mohammad who has become a Moe, or the quiet Saeed who used to come to school in slacks and the tucked in shirt, but is now Sam the gangsta." 
Oh yeah, they're all over the place. Dare any of them go back to Yemen and tell "Daddy" about their "cool" nickname?  
We're slowly losing our Muslim identity and that will sure affect the next generations. If we continue to act the way we are right now, Islam will vanish sooner than expected, unless we believe in this: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"? or, the Yemeni version,  
في بلاد العور اعور عينك 
Thanks for the nice article, Yumna.
Written by YemenReform, on 03-06-2007 22:01
Very nice article. This is just the tip of the iceberg.  
I know many friends that struggled with this problem in NY and many US cities. It has a lot to do with character and peer pressure. You need to have a strong character to resist peer pressure. If everyone is drinking in the group then something is wrong with you. SO WHAT 
It is difficult to blend to survive under all these pressures. 
Many people cave in because these western influences promise pleasure.  
I think that the answer lies in the family and friends. The family has to do a better job of explaining the benefits of Yemeni values. They have to be practiced and enjoyed in healthy environment. You need nice Yemeni friends to counterweight the pressure from your western friends. The whole Yemeni community must participate in events that reinforce the benefits of Yemeni cultural values.  
I don't see that happening.  
Many families are not educated enough to understand all the dangers and explain them to their kids. The community is very week and rarely holds any gatherings except for Jum3a prayers, Eed, and very rare events.  
You are only left with the strength of your character to see you through all these western forces. 
Non-Yemeni families are facing similar problems. No one wants their kid singing rap lyrics about sex and drugs. No one wants their kid getting pregnant or married at young age and ruin their life. We chose to live here. We must deal with it.
 3 Written by Yasmeen, on 04-06-2007 02:03
I enjoyed reading your article, Yumna.  
Mona in my opinion the issue is not that we are always trying to prove ourself to the white man, if you're a white boy growing up in Yemen you'll own a zannah and a jambiyah, you'll speak arabic with an accent, you'll harass girls in the street- if you're friends are doing it, you'll certainly chew qat..etc. Not to mention that "gangsta" attitude is not a white man's attitude.  
What strikes me in topics like this is that we all seem to have a very clear idea of what is a Yemeni identity, what is a Muslim identity and then we bundle all the rest as Western identity. Whatever defines an identity is in constant change. Who draws the lines and ossifies definitions? These Yemenis dressed in low wide pants and too-large-to-fit shirts are, whether we like it or not, slightly adjusting what constitutes an American identity as well as a Yemeni identity. It's never one thing that will always be the same independent of new comers.
 4 .. :D
Written by Tarek Shumaila, on 04-06-2007 17:28
nice article 
The way yemeni people dress up is not that big of a deal..i asked yemeni people who dress like gangsters hoping to find a lame reason for what they\'re wearing. They think it\'s more confortable to be in that fit than the tight jeans and tshirts, the issue that should most concern us is their self value; what they teach others about yemen and what they do in daily bases. 
Talking about jobs, i hardly have seen any older yemenies wearing lose pants. Teenagers work these days and they know what to wear at work or else they'll get fired. 
 5 thought
Written by Guest, on 04-06-2007 19:57
What happened to the days when parents used to whip their kids into shape? I was whipped as a child and I turned out just alright.
 6 Written by Mona, on 05-06-2007 03:36
Yasmeen, good point about the white guys in Yemen. But remember that we, Muslims, should be influencers but not influenced by others, unless it is a positive influence of course. Too much "influence" in my last sentence; hope you got my point right :) 
 7 Written by Yasmeen, on 05-06-2007 03:53
 8 RE:
Written by Mona, on 05-06-2007 06:35
The white guy in Yemen might own a zannah and jambiya, but why should he CERTAINLY chew qat and harass girls on streets? This is similar to saying that a Yemeni person in the West will CERTAINLY drink when he sees his friends drinking! 
(إن الذين يحبون أن تشيع الفاحشة في الذين آمنوا لهم عذاب أليم في الدنيا والآخرة والله يعلم وأنتم لا تعلمون) 
We are asked to be positive influencers in our societies and show the best Islam has to offer to humanity, as the Prophet (PBUH) once said: 
(كنتم خير أمة أخرجت للناس, تأمرون بالمعروف و تنهون عن المنكر و تؤمنون بالله) 
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean we neglect other people’s beliefs and disgrace their points of view. On the contrary, we should consider their opinions and debate what we see wrong in them, gently and wisely,  
(و ادع إلى سبيل ربك بالحكمة والموعظة الحسنة وجادلهم بالتي هي أحسن) 
Muslims should be constructive idols in whatever society they live in. We can implement the best in that society into our religion and add it to the other great values we have in Islam. This is why...
 9 just a thought ..
Written by Adeeb, on 05-06-2007 19:52
I think the question we should be more concerned about answering is why do they look for their identity in such figures like 50 cent? And why is it that their friends have this much influence? Why not our kids have the “better” influence on their friends instead? We could blame the parents. But I prefer to think of it as a collective responsibility of the whole community, parents alone can not handle it. A community that should at the least take care of its own, not by isolating them in community centered schools and activities, but rather by providing them with support programs in their public schools and after it, providing them and giving them access to raw models that could help them make better choices or at least informed ones. 
If I let my kid get acquainted with a white kid in Yemen, I would love it if mine could learn some of the good things the white kid has to offer and as well for him to learn from mine. But if I were such a bad parent that my kid is harassing girls in streets and chewing qat, it is definitely not my kid’s fault that the white kid turned as bad!!
 10 Good work
Written by OAA, on 05-06-2007 22:46
thank you guys, this month's issue is exceptionally perfect
 11 Written by adeeb, on 06-06-2007 06:10
* role models! :)
 12 analysis
Written by Chaya, on 11-06-2007 23:56
Thank you, Yumna, very well written and the idea is pointed out clearly. And remarkable examples ;)  
I\'d like to add something to Yasmeen\'s point because indeed she ciritzied or noticed a leading motive which can be found throughout your article. The question of definitions. And this cultural sense of being together and other boundaries. I think this youth, especially the ones hanging out on the streets, they have some really heavy burden to deal with, much more than ours, we who we read and write here, we seem to be much more self-confident and find even time and arguments to defend or explain identity. I don\'t think Wannabe-50Cents are sitting here and commenting, this woudln\'t sound too realistic to me. But them \"on the streets\", let\'s say so, what is actually the thing that creates the strong ties to the \"Western\" culture and lifestyle? And what, on the contrary, is able to hold them tight in their community? I know this is one of your points, Yumna, but still I come back to it... it is not the fault of community and not too much of the parents which causes our and any other youth to get lost. As Adeeb mentioned... it actually is inside in everyone of us. We here, the most of us are strong and can decide. Having identity, interests, preferences. Easy life, compared to their one. No community ever can manage to have such a great influence on youth and individuals as the, let\'s say, \"modern\" society of the West and all its role models have - as long as the individual doesn\'t have something inside, a spirit, an own idea of what is right or wrong and what is good for me. Not for others to be proud of me, but for me. It is self-distruction not to care for your own wishes but for the society standarts, and this youth still has to figure that out. And since Yemenis are caring so much for preserving their own values and culture, the main point should actually be, when being already with children and family in the \"diaspora\": to help a person to find the own way. Not by building cultural borders but by opening them. And again I come back to the idea that some-thing has to be inside. If you are a Muslim or Yemeni or both but you have no clear idea what to do with this part of you, this identity is for nothing. You get into a crisis and need to change and in the most cases the change is not a good one. 
:p I realize I\'ve written and repeated a lot but it was important for me to analyse again these points we came to speak about. Thank you Yumna!
 13 nice article
Written by bashar, on 16-06-2007 19:29
nice article Yumna :roll
 14 Nice But
Written by Sara, on 02-07-2007 11:44
It is nice article Yumna but that does not mean that you will keep it here for another month !!! we are waiting for the new issue of the magazine :sigh
 15 sam is a gangster name??god bless my dea
Written by keep it real, on 02-07-2007 21:55
excuse me yemenese arent the only people tryin to be gangster the 50cent tupac westside eastside sendrum is gettin populor all around the world plus what did we offer these young souls???we cant blame them for liking such things cuz we didnt give them any alternatives they go back to yemen and see everybodys chewin gat and not doin nothin so they say you know what ill just be a gangster and wear hip hop clothes better than sittin in a room and chewin grass for 10 hours so to my brothers and sisters out there just keep it real and live ur lives dont care about what anybody says by the way thanks for the nice article

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