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Racial Awareness at CHS – Tamara Zafer

Leo Rassieur

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What is your ethnicity?

I am Arab. My parents are from Palestine and Jordan, but I was born in the U.S.

In what ways are you proud of or celebrate your ethnicity and culture?

I have always been really close friends with a lot of people who are Arab, and we celebrate holidays together. We have a religious holiday — Ramadan — where every week we get together and break our fast. It’s pretty cool because you grow up around these people.

Are there any stereotypes surrounding your ethnicity or culture?

Yes, there are a lot of stereotypes. I guess we don’t have it that bad here because it is really diverse in Cupertino. When I go to other places in the U.S., there are people who sometimes assume, for example, that I am forced to wear a hijab when in reality my parents really don’t care if I am wearing it or not. A lot of people think that we are violent people, but we’re actually not. I have never met an Arab who agrees with the violence in the Middle East.

How do you personally combat these stereotypes?

You could be the only person someone ever meets who is Arab. You kind of have to be an example; I always think about if someone saw me, would their stereotypes go away? Would they stop [believing stereotypes] about Arabs? I always try to be nice because I don’t want people to get the idea that we are bad people.

When did you first notice racism or stereotyping based on race?

When I was young, in elementary school, some guy asked where I was from. I told him I was from Palestine, and he asked me if I felt bad that my uncle Osama bin-Laden died. I was just so confused, and I had no idea what was happening; I had no relation with [what he was talking about.] It got worse when I started wearing a hijab, because the first thing people knew when they saw me, besides the fact that I am a girl, is that I am a Muslim because of the thing I wear on my head. If someone has stereotypes, then he or she definitely expresses them in how they treat me. Perhaps the first time I noticed really bad racism was the day before my family and I returned to the U.S. from Jordan. I had started wearing a hijab permanently, and I noticed that I was definitely being treated differently by airport security. I even missed my flight because they pulled me aside for so long.

How should we as a society combat these issues?

I think everyone should just be open-minded. If someone sees something on the news, especially since the media is biased, they should not automatically believe it. I guess there is some truth, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you hear something on the news about Arabs, I wouldn’t be hurt if someone came and asked me about it. It’s a lot better than just assuming it is true and living that way.

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