Often I’ve felt like there was no one place in which I belonged. My ancestry is spread all over Europe, not unlike many Americans. I often wondered what it would be like to lay claim to a particular place and call it “mine”. I have always admired people who had a strong identity with their heritage. Those who could stand up and say this place is where I am from, and my grandparents, and so on and so forth. When considering this idea it seemed talking with some of those people would be the best way to understand what Moroccan identity really is. I never expected that for the most part they would be as unsure of their identity as I am with mine.
Three Moroccan ladies very close to my heart were gracious enough to share their views and ideas about their Moroccan identity with me. I am changing their names to keep them anonymous so allow me to introduce Habiba, Jamila, and Kenza. All three ladies live in the United States now; two of them have young daughters and the other a new bride. Their circumstances for coming to the US vary. Habiba came as a young, single woman later marrying a Moroccan husband and choosing to stay in the US to build a life. Jamila grew up in France, a Parisienne (as she identifies herself), to Moroccan parents. Kenza came to the US as a young child but as much as she does consider herself American, her roots are Moroccan.
Entering the United States in the late 1990’s as a young, single woman, Habiba was not sure what to expect of her new country. She spoke no English and had only one extended family member to welcome her to the US. Initially, adapting to a new life was the biggest challenge she faced, and little time was spent concerning herself with maintaining her Moroccan heritage. But as she adjusted to life in the US and began to get more involved with the large Moroccan community around her, it became more important. After having a child Habiba felt that it was important to make sure her daughter knew where she came from. This is and was imparted through everyday acts such as speaking Arabic, celebrating holidays, maintaining traditions, visiting Morocco when possible and creating a solid religious foundation at home. However she also believes that it is equally important for her daughter to respect and be raised in the American culture. Habiba is very proud of her identity but expresses the need for changes to occur in Morocco. She sees that the younger generation, coming up now, as working hard to make these changes such as; setting higher standards for themselves and their country, promoting initiative, stopping the culture of complaining and working as a team to build their country up.
Born to Moroccan immigrants in Paris, France, Jamila immigrated to the United States more than 10 years ago. She explains her childhood as a split; she was Moroccan at home but French on the street. However she stresses this was never a problem for her. Growing up at the time she did was not like the France of today and she was never harassed because of her identity. At home she learned the language, cuisine and culture of Morocco but also was Parisienne. Jamila chooses to identify herself as Parisienne vs. French because that is the city she was raised in. Due to the dichotomy in her upbringing she never felt 100% French or 100% Moroccan, but identifying as Parisienne she is able to blend these two cultural aspects of her identity. Jamila hopes that her ability to have a dual identity while growing up in France will be the same experience her daughter has growing up in the United States. During the week she’s American, attending American public school and participating in activities. On Saturdays she attends a Moroccan weekend school. During the summer her daughter visits Morocco to spend time with family. Jamila feels that it’s important for her daughter to know both aspects of her heritage, but foremost know she is as American as any other child born in the United States.
Arriving in America at age nine (9), Kenza doesn’t have vivid memories of life in Morocco. In fact before my talking to her she never considered the importance of her identity. This she believes is mostly due to her living in the US at a young age. She doesn’t feel like maintaining her Moroccan identity is as important to her, but being Moroccan is like riding a bike, it always comes back! Growing up she credits her family as raising her with a good balance of both cultures. She appreciates the sense of family values such as respect and loyalty that come with being raised Moroccan but also her families’ ability and willingness to have a strong sense of American-ness. Kenza hopes that this will be passed on to the next generation as well. The one thing she wishes could be changed about the Moroccan culture is the nagging and gossip between each other. She wishes that Moroccans would recognize the need to be straight forward with each other and work together to build a strong community.
Both Jamila and Kenza expressed the fact that they had been accused of not being “Moroccan enough” but were never able to fully understand or define what that meant. Jamila expanded on the topic when it came to dating. For an American/European man she would be deemed too conservative. However to a Moroccan she was too “modern.” Having a dual identity has meant living up to different peoples’ definition of what they should be. This notion is something that I believe goes far beyond Morocco and can be seen in any culture.
Understanding and accepting one’s own identity is a struggle, a struggle that many deal with their entire lives. In present day Morocco this tug of war is clear on an individual and national level. Older generations have a sense of what it means to be Moroccan, while younger generations are embracing new ideas and blending together a Moroccan fusion identity. As Moroccans travel and live in every corner of the globe, the experiences, ideas and new identities they bring back to Morocco are re-defining what it means to be Moroccan.