On Belonging: Growing Up Between Two Cultures and Two Religions

By: Aliah

What does it mean to belong? According to Google, the official definition of belonging is having ‘an affinity for a place or situation.’ Yet, the word can be interpreted in many different ways. Some may choose to take the logical approach, ‘I live in my house hence I belong here’ while others see belonging as a form of connection, a feeling of safety and comfortableness, so despite living in a house they may feel as if they do not belong here. Now, where am I going with this? Well, with globalization becoming more and more evident, it is hard to find your place in the world, especially if you are like me. A product of mixed ethnicities without the means to help form a bond and connection in either place, leading to a lack of belonging.

Coming from an Arab country with a Muslim majority in contrast to my South American Catholic counterpart, I struggle to find a balance that resonates with each culture. What is acceptable in one is completely looked down upon in another, and this drastic split not only confuses what is right and what is wrong but leaves me feeling isolated and detached from both. Although it is a known fact that we are all connected through technology, certain cultures remain inaccessible. Language barriers often leave people alienated, not being able to speak your native tongue gets you ostracized and shamed, this shaming of ‘lack of culture’ is brutal because 9 times out of 10 it never takes into account why they didn’t learn the language. Familial issues may have interfered with their development yet instead of finding a way to allow them to learn and belong within a culture we choose to push them further away as if that will do anything. There is such an emphasis on traditional values as if moving away from such will cause the culture to erode and die yet this mindset only sets us back. The lack of adaptation and inclusivity of culture is causing fewer people to care, leading to its demise. Forward thinkers of places that are not trying to impede on tradition but create new ones are shunned. How are we expected to feel as if we belong when there is already a clear-cut requirement on what it is you must have to be able to be considered a part of the culture?

With globalization becoming more and more evident we are seeing the rise of mixed kids. Children whose parents originate from all parts of the world not only are more knowledgeable on both cultures but are more adaptable and culturally aware, the only downside to this is being able to deeply root themselves in a particular culture as one normally can. Parents with different backgrounds can cause households to become unique and have their own dynamic where the child can belong but when that child leaves their house, where do they go? This child is now stuck in the middle. Now this example of two cultures can just as easily be switched out for political ideologies, a conservative parent and a liberal one, both educate the child on their personal view and allow the child to choose what they wish to. Does choosing one option invalidate the other? When presented with two options, it’s hard to know which one to choose for ourselves, there is always that little doubt in the back of your head asking endless ‘what if’s?

The question of where I belong becomes logical, as the child has formed equal emotional attachments and connections with each place but to ask them where they belong, they logically calculate what a right fit for them is. Why? Because no one ever mentions that you can belong in two places at once.

What I figured out in my 18 years of life is that I can feel as if I belong to a culture even if others think I do not. I learned that I can belong in two places, I was blessed with having the ability to learn and cherish both cultures, and having to choose where I belong won’t make me fulfilled but will further isolate me and make me even more alone. I belong in the middle place between both cultures, and that is okay. I may not agree with their values or their views, but I still feel a sense of belonging because no country or ideology or religion is perfect. I can resonate with one place more but still belong somewhere else at the same time. As people, we need to stop deciding where others belong and focus on where we belong as people. You may not belong in your home country, that is alright. There is no right way to find out where you belong, experience, research, and your emotions guide you through that one. As humans, we are all connected even if we don’t feel like it, and we all belong somewhere. It’s just up to us to find out where that ‘somewhere’ is because that is a choice we are owed.

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