Thursday, February 07, 2013

The new semester

I've been getting to know my new crop of students this week. They're a particularly diverse bunch this semester. I often have hordes of Emiratis and Saudis with a few other variations on the Arab theme mixed in there, but this time my classes are more diverse across the board. Off the top of my head (after only meeting with them twice, so it's possible I'm forgetting some), my students come from:

That's China, UAE, Jordan, Saudi, Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Palestine.

Of course, saying my students are "from" a certain place can be misleading. In some cases, the student has never actually been to where s/he is "from." One of my female Palestinian students was born and raised in the UAE and has never ever traveled to her ancestral homeland (Gaza). But she is "from," and always will be "from," Palestine. Good for her - I mean it. I've written on this topic before, but I sometimes think that we Americans whitewash (for lack of a better word) our origins a little too much. Wouldn't it be lovely to meet someone in the US, ask them where they're from, and have them say, "Well, my mother's family came over from Poland in the late 19th-century and my father's family is primarily Italian"? Lovely, yes. Time-consuming, also yes. But it's a more complete answer than "LA" or whatever, that's for sure.

My students think it's strange that Americans can claim they're "from" a certain city or state only by virtue of having lived there for x amount of time. In this neighborhood, you'd better have several generations backing you up before you claim to be from a certain country.

Anyway, it's just interesting, that's all. This semester is the first time I'll be teaching someone from Libya and Sudan; the rest I've done before. I'm glad I have some diverse classes to keep things interesting.


Liz Johnson said...

I have no idea where I'm from. I mean, my distant ancestors came from a variety of European ancestors, but virtually all of them were in the US before 1750. At what point can I just say I'm "American" and that counts? Do I always have to be from German/British/Scottish/Norwegian ancestry? How far back do I have to go?

And then, since being in the US, my family has been all over. I mean, most obviously started out on the East Coast, but then after that it's primarily Utah (mom's side) and Pennsylvania (Dad's side). And then I've been all over, having lived in 10ish different states/countries since I was born. So... where am I from?! I have absolutely no idea.

Bridget said...

Oooh, that's pretty far back! Aside from actual Native Americans, you are one of the most American people I know, apparently.

Liz Johnson said...

Obviously there are some later-comers in the bunch, but on the whole, I'm probably 80% Pilgrim/Palatinate stock. It makes doing family history rather convenient, not having to dig up (and read) German records.

(sorry, my nerdity is coming out...)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I remember "A" in Syria, who was "from" the Golan but had never lived there.

We've lived in the PAC NW long enough that I say it's where I'm from. Sometimes you can tell by how people ask that question, how much they really want to know. When they 'want to know' I go into more detail about how I was born in NY, grew up in CA, etc. The only time I get into ancestry is when people specifically ask about it, and then I can go great guns. Mine is easy since I'm split down the middle--half Irish/half Ruthenian. Yet the bottom line is, when I'm out of the US, I'm an American.

Susanne said...

My Syrian friends have asked me this before, but I don't know what to claim. I'm mixed up. I guess Northern European.What's weird is when Samer asks if I feel a connection to my roots when we visit him in Germany. Or when he asks if I feel some magical connection towards Northern Europeans. (Not really.) OR when he asks if I want to move back or feel angry at my ancestors for leaving my roots for the US.

I think I told you before that he grew up in Mezze, but will say he is from Midan because, apparently, Al-Hakims are known to be from Midan.

I love how diverse your students are. I really enjoy stories you share from teaching them!

Timothy Browning said...

I've looked at a lot of ME flags, but I still had yet to realize how similar they all are. I get the heavy use of green, but that's it. The triangles? The red and white and black? Nope.

Bridget said...

There's a reason most ME countries have red/white/green/black...but I can't remember what it is without looking at Wikipedia. Something to do with the Arab League, maybe?


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