Poem: Self Hatred Is a Form of Survival

Like all kids, I was born with the fitr of Allah.

I was born Muslim, but my parents changed my religion

Because a slavemaster changed that of my father’s father before him.

And my biological mother, she was American, second generation.

She’s “white,” she’s American

She is not of any other nations,

She insists.

But she is only here because her grandparents were once migrants, and before that, refugees. But that’s all forgotten now. It can never happen to us; we are privileged Americans, right?

Who needs to know history? So what if it always repeats itself? So what if they tell you white lies in your schoolbooks? So what if your history has been reduced to the Trail of Tears, slavery, or terrorism; you’re an American.

A little white lie never hurt nobody, right? This is who you are. It says so right here, in black and white, so it must be true.

The ink is running together, blurred, bleeding, and now I can’t see where the wor(l)ds end and I begin.

You’re an American…whatever that is, because hardly any of us are indigenous to this land.

This land is your land, this land is my land…I sing along like a good little girl, but the words taste bitter in my mouth.

This land is stolen, and I know it.


My grandmother, she voted for Trump. But she would never want me in a concentration camp, or deported. She loves me more than life, and I love her. Nothing can change that.

My grandfather — he unlearned and relearned, and he left me books, and I find him, and my family, and our history, between the pages.

No one else in my family likes to read. Their minds, like our history books, remain closed.

Me, I close my eyes and count to 10 every time they say something racist. Maybe it will stop hurting, if I squeeze my eyes hard enough. I squeeze my eyes shut until my eyes hurt, but it doesn’t stop. It never does. They repeat things they heard growing up; they want to fit in, because their grandparents were foreigners, and there’s nothing more American than racism.

I am as foreign to them as they are to me; secretly, they blame my father, and his darker complexion.

After all, (said with a smile), isn’t it always the man’s fault?


I could be rich if I charged people $1 every time they asked where I’m from. “I’m from the moon,” I answer to myself. Before I knew better, I ruined my skin with ink; I had my friend Jay draw me a home, right there on my skin. There’s no place like home. But I still didn’t fit in.

Somewhere on my skin, hidden by my hijab, there’s a tattoo that says “We are made of star stuff,” and I believe it.

It’s a nod to my grandfather, who worked at NASA. The child of an immigrant and a refugee, the product of diasporas, who went on to reach great heights, literally.

His name is on the moon, wallahi.


Until I married, I had my mother’s last name that she got from him, because my mother’s family bore the burden that was me.

We have a last name that no one can pronounce. Sometimes people don’t even bother to try.

Even if they said it right, it would still be wrong. No one bothered to spell our names right when my great grandpa came to Ellis Island. No one from our family has bothered to correct it; to reclaim their identity. It wasn’t important, because we are in America now.

Repeat after me. There is no identity but American, and before this, nothing ever existed.

Here, nothing matters but your ability to blend in; to camouflage. Integrate. Assimilate. Whoever told you you are a special snowflake is wrong. Melt. Melting pot.


All lives matter…unless you’re an immigrant, gay, Muslim, Brown, Latino, Black; really, if you’re anyone other than a White Christian, go away. Go back to where you came from…we don’t want you.

But we do want to know what’s under your hijab. Is it hair, are you bald? Aren’t you hot in that? Do you have a bomb? TSA “randomly” selects me all the time.

I never know what to select on the Census. Why isn’t cat an option? I want to be a cat instead.


“Go back to where you came from.”

We can’t go away. We don’t know where we came from. It’s been erased. We don’t speak our mother tongue. If we do, it’s awkwardly; our tongue tripping over the words, or in whispers to hide our “otherness.”

After all, no one wants to be kicked off their flight that’s taking them to see their long-lost forgotten abuela and cousins that we won’t be able to speak with anyway.

Love has no language. We’ll get by.


I married a Moroccan man, and the papers we’ve been filling out for him to come here refer to him as an “alien.” I find it amusing, because he feels like home to me. Maybe because I said I was from the moon, and he’s a real live alien. Destiny.

His last name is French, because colonization. He refuses to speak French, because it was the language of the oppressor, and that’s okay with me. I understand. My dad once said the same about Spanish.

I wonder how my great-grandparents felt coming here, as aliens. If it made them feel that they were “others,” and less than human.

I think about the term “illegal aliens,” and I don’t get it, because how is being human illegal?

Weren’t the pilgrims illegal aliens then? Weren’t they refugees searching for freedom of religion?

The hypocrisy makes my head hurt, and I struggle to make sense of it all.

Or.  Here’s a radical idea — and it isn’t Islam.

Maybe the pilgrims weren’t refugees.

Maybe they were really white supremacists.

Maybe they were actually a bunch of xenophobic genocidal jerks.

Happy Thanksgiving; here, have some more pumpkin pie.  Isn’t imperialism delicious?


One day, when we have a son or a daughter, or maybe both, our children will speak their ancestral tongues with ease. They will love the spices we love, and they’ll be proud little alien babies.

They’ll visit Morocco, Italy, Palestine, Cuba.

They will serve this great county by being themselves — and I pray they are accepted for it. That they don’t grow up with self-hatred, like some of my family did.

That they don’t erase themselves, and their culture, and replace it with hamburgers and hot dogs, and McDonald’s chicken McNuggets that maybe aren’t even chicken. (It’s okay if they want to eat Chipotle once in a while.)

Because mira, listen, kid… I worked way too hard to learn these things later in life, for you. So I could teach you, habib(t)i. So you understand where you come from, better than I did.

So that the only time you think about the moon is when you’re aiming for it.

So that you never feel like an alien.


My husband and I already wonder what our children will check off on the census –White? Brown? African American? Arab? ‘MURRICA? Cat? Alien child? Human?

Who knows, he says and shrugs.

Not me. I don’t know much about anything, at all.

I was always a fan of hip hop, and spent a few years working at “The Source.” I never much cared for Lil Wayne; it always seemed like he was speaking gibberish, until one day he said, “We are not the same; I am a Martian.”

I understood him.

After all… I must be from the moon.