Randa Khalaf is an IC alumna currently living in Canada. Her IC classmate Lara Hajj Salman shared this poem by Randa with us:
Pieces of my Identity
( Background: I am from Lebanon, a country that was under The Ottoman rule for 400 years
and then after wwI it was colonized by the French until after the end of WWII. It's proudly
francophone and in the region its people are known for being highly optimistic. When I was
born a 20 year civil war ripped the country apart and ended the year Said , here , was born.
But it's not a land without internal struggle until today.
In this spoken word I look back upon my life’s journey)
Who am I?
I am the product of war and peace, the quotient of my divided identity!
I am the sum of my experiences, the aftermath of war and betrayal.
Why was I so blind that I let them colonize my mind?
Let's go back in time:
I am ten:
“Run down to the shelter”
“Don’t forget your books,” whoosh, boom! “Quickly”
I am 14:
“light the candle, don’t read Shakespeare in the dark, habibi!”
“The shelling has stopped! There is a ceasefire. Good, you won’t miss school tomorrow!”
I am 18:
“Mom, I have decided! I want to be a teacher. I want to teach English!
I want to teach about Shakespeare and Dickens,
about the comma and the paragraph,
about George Orwell and Big Brother.”
I am 23:
Students, listen, read, write
Learn how great American authors are
Learn how awesome British authors can be
I am teaching English, the Language of the world, the ticket to emancipation from first world
Teaching about Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream,
But what about our dream?
Why didn’t I teach the literature of Jubran Khalil Jubran and Amin Maalouf,
Or Wajdi Mouawad and Zeina AbiRached?
The literature that connects to my students’ lives
Not the Literary canon of a country thousands of miles away
Connected to our lives by the pixels on our TV, and the bandwidths of our cell phones.
I am 39:
The decision to leave them behind was easy.
My beloved country!
My patriotism did not stand a chance against the colonization of my mind.
From the age I could read, I read two languages,
I spoke two languages,
Found difficulty in the literature of my native tongue,
Took refuge in the language of Uncle Sam, the savior, the great.
The residue of colonization still runs in my blood!
Post colonialism gripped me, made me a victim.
I did not fight it!
I embraced it!
I gave my students a gift ,
The gift of a postcolonial identity mired with strife and glorified by false connections
Connections made through watching TV shows
And studying the Eurocentric canon of the wild wild west!
“Think critically,” I would tell my students!
“Analyze the text,” I would emphasize!
“Relate it to your own experience,” I would say!
“Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and marched for freedom.”
I asked, “Won’t he be happy to see Obama in office?”
Martin Luther King stood up for what he believed in.
He broke the status quo!
What my dear students would you stand up for??
What is your dream?
Look around you, change your present! Work towards a future that enables you to be the
best you can be.
Make a sign, draw a banner, walk in that imaginary march.
Stand up for the abused woman, stand up to a patriarchal society that turns a blind eye!
Don’t be a sheep. Don’t follow the herd!
Make your own path. Forge your own road!
I am 40:
Why wasn’t that my message then,
at 23 at 33?
Why was my mind not emancipated from the postcolonial stench
The stench that was a thief in the night,
That robbed me of pride in my culture and of transmitting this pride to my students!
Did I stunt their creativity? Did I stunt their critical minds?
I am 42:
I braved the psyche of my colonized mind.
I took my identity on a reflexive journey into my own biography
I took a leaf from Anthony Giddens to find the ‘ongoing story of my life’
Why should Giddens help me my find my path?
Why I am not Mentioning Jibran or Maalouf?
Is my mind still colonized?
Should I come to terms with the ambivalence of my binary identity?
I find myself in Homi Bhabha’s third space having conversations within myself to come to
terms with the hybridity of my postcolonial
I will do what Amin Maalouf does and “scour my memory to find as many ingredients of my
identity as I can.” Then, I will “assemble and arrange them.” I won’t “deny any of them.”
I will take a journey on the path of “Selfknowledge” with Jibran and find my soul, my identity.
I will not grow like a reed but will unfold “like a lotus of countless petals”.
Now, I have perspective!
I have started to pull myself out of the quagmire of Western oppression
Now post40 and on the throes of middle age, my true journey begins in a land that
celebrates multiculturalism and is not afraid of difference.
to teach critically, and to break those barriers between East and West .
To make literacy relevant to the culture and identity of each and every student.
To no longer take anything for granted.
To question the status quo and look deep into myself and my history .
To transcend the oppressive practices of my past,
To make sure my students become liberal thinkers, critical thinkers
To bridge the gap between theory and practice,
between ideology and implementation, between East and West.
So, I ask again:
Who am I?
I am a woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a student.
I am an immigrant, a Lebanese not yet Canadian.
I am an ever evolving-version of myself
For I am a product in the making
My self-study does not end here
As Jibran says “the self is a sea boundless and measureless”
Today, I have not found “the truth” but rather “a truth”
Tomorrow may bring many truths.
My reflexive identity will guide me on my journey of self-discovery
In this multicultural globalized version of our world.