The glory of the pyramids meshing with the fire and spirit of Lady Liberty.
Hot dogs and hummus.
Pita and potato chips.
Fine dirt and rich farming soil.
Egyptian linens and 4th of July t-shirts.
It seems almost impossible for a culture so rich in history to join hand in hand with the fierce patriotism of the United States of America. Yet, that is exactly what happened the day my parents got married.
You see, I am mixed race. My mother is as American as apple pie (with ancestors immigrating on the Mayflower), and my father is a Canadian-born Egyptian. I am the eldest child in our family, and I look the most “mixed” out of my two siblings. When I was young, I didn’t like being multi-racial because I felt like I never had a place. At church, we were the only ones -and I mean the ONLY ones- who didn’t know a word of Arabic. At my 95% white school, I was the exotic kid with the weird name and the “EEE-jehp-shun” daddy. My brother and I had rehearsed answers to the bizarre things people from both communities said to us.
“Oh my GAWSH! You’re Egyptian! That’s so cool. Were your ancestors pharaohs?”
“You’re only half Egyptian? Oh, so you’re not really Egyptian.”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T SPEAK ARABIC?! Zis is not good, ya Marina. We will make you a rreeall Egyptian and teach you za language of your forefazers!”
*Walks into parent-teacher conference with Mom*
“Hi there! Oh, you’re Marina’s mom? Isn’t that nice…I’m guessing she looks more like her father?”
The list could go on and on. After a while, I got used to it. I still get those questions, but I try my best to refrain from being sarcastic or snarky when answering. After all, there are no malicious intentions. People are just curious, which leads me to the many plus sides of being a mixed kid.
I have an awesome family tree. Ask me about my background, and I would ask you which one you want to know about first. Do you want to hear about my great grandpa Elmer? I could tell you about how he lived to his nineties making his living as a farmer in Nebraska. I could tell you about how he always wore denim overalls and rubber boots. He said “Yes sir”, and “By Golly!” as he chewed on straw. If you imagined the picture perfect example of a Midwestern farmer, you would have imagined great-grandpa.
Oh, did you want to know about my Egyptian side? I can talk about that too. I’d love to tell you about my Gido. I could tell you how he left Egypt as a teen for Austria to attend medical school. After that, he went to Germany, then Canada, then St. Louis and Chicago. Along the way, he married my Teta (grandmother) and had my dad and aunt Eva. In the office, he was the stern business man who wanted good work done right. At home, he was the grandpa that would never say no, ever.
Recently, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see both sides of the family. It’s reminded me of the beautiful and very obvious differences between the Egyptian and American sides. The best example of this is found in my grandmothers, who are more opposite than night and day. Teta is the picture of an Egyptian grandmother: she’s petite, always clad in suits, and is insistent that her grandchildren act like proper ladies and gentlemen. Grandma is a wellspring of factoids and trivia: whether she is telling you about her favorite vitamins, or quizzing you on these fifty-nifty United States, she always has something fascinating to say.
Being around both of them has taught me something very valuable about myself. It’s a realization I’m surprised I haven’t had before. As I looked at myself in Grandma’s bathroom mirror a few days ago, I noticed that the person staring back at me was a complete blend of my grandmothers. I saw my Teta’s nose and hair color. I saw Grandma’s hands and fingers.
Then, I hopped into the shower. As I tried not to get shampoo in my eyes (it happens way too often…ugh), I thought about my personality. I have inherited my Teta’s sense of caution and concern. My love of music and my creativity come from Grandma. I love girly things like perfume, makeup and nail polish. Teta and I bond over that all the time. I’ve always been a dreamer and a romantic, something that is reinforced when I’m with Grandma. She loves all things Disney! Both women love to laugh, though their senses of humor are totally different. Mine is somewhere in the middle: sarcastic and teasing, yet blunt and to-the-point.
As I examined myself, I saw how skillfully God meshed both cultures, both women, together to create me. The differences found in my two sides of family came together under God’s supervision to make something new. I know that if you look at yourself, you’ll see the same. Do you have your father’s eyelashes? Do your lips look like your mom’s? It could be something subtle. My cousin Julie and I have the same freckle on our pinkie toe! What has God passed down to you?
Our bloodlines don’t just run though our veins. They’re in the way we walk and in our opinions. The way you smile and your laugh are beautiful combinations of your family tree. I used to be frustrated by my confusing background, but I’m grateful for it now.
When God knits us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), I imagine Him double strand knitting. That’s when you take two different kinds of yarn and hold them together between your fingers as if they were one piece. Then, the two yarns are intertwined throughout your work, making for a colorful and interesting finished product (P.S., Grandma taught me to knit! :D). I feel like that image is a perfect analogy for the way God has created you and me. Taking two different dynasties, He selected certain traits that He’s masterfully combined to make you. When you see yourself, I hope you can spot those traits. It was so fulfilling for me to experience, and I’m glad God opened my eyes to it. See, I spent many years being frustrated by the things that God used to define me. Reader, maybe you’ve fought that battle before. Give this a shot: the next time you’re in front of a mirror, take five minutes to really study yourself. Look at the planes of your face, and think of your family. I bet God will show you how fearfully and wonderfully made you really are (Psalm 139:14). After all, you are God’s work of art. You’re a true masterpiece.
I think that’s pretty amazing.