“I Remember” by Loran Aladdin

Loran wrote the following for my Humanities 101 class at Maryville University this past spring semester.


I remember a lifetime of feeling as though I should refrain from being proud of my identity.

I remember spending the night before school began at the age of 6 having to practice what to say when someone inevitably asked where I am from. 

The automated response grazed my tongue here and there when someone’s curiosity peaked. I was so excited to tell them what I had practice. “North of Iraq”. 

I always found the response my parents had trained me to give odd. We do not call it North of Iraq at home? So, suddenly why is there this effort to conceal our origin? 

Why can’t I just call it Kurdistan? What I did not understand at the moment, which I would soon learn the hard way, is that my parents were not concealing my origin, rather saving me the uncomfortable experience of being responded to with a confused face.

Or the blatant disrespect in the question “What’s that.” Not “where” but “what.”

I remember having a class discussion in the first grade. 

The prompt we were to discuss with our table-mates was “what is your favorite holiday to celebrate?”

 While most of the responses were commercialized holidays, I excitedly told my table that I really enjoy celebrating Eid.

I wasn’t as excited for the holiday I chose as I was to be a breath of fresh air in the crowd of “Christmas’” and “Halloweens’”. 

I remember the general response I received. Children shocked that there are others out there that do not celebrate Christmas, I didn’t mind it,

I remember a student at my table, turning to me after I said this. 

“Are you Muslim?”

I remember giving a prideful nod.

“My neighbor and I are going to come to your house with guns and shoot you.”

I remember the principal glad to be going along with his denial of the statement.

I remember his mother, the sweetest librarian. 

I remember her crying to my mother swearing up and down that they didn’t raise him like that, that they had no clue where he would’ve gotten that from. That his older brother’s best friend was from Egypt.

My first death threat at age 6.

I remember bringing yaprax to school for lunch. Similar to stuffed grape leaves. 

I remember the children around me all had Lunchables.

I remember being told my food looks like poop while the rest of the table laughed. 

I remember going home and begging my mom to get me Lunchables for school. 

I remember that was the last time I ever brought Kurdish food with me to lunch. 

I remember that in a school packed with “Smiths” “Johnsons”, the last name Aladdin stuck out like a sore thumb. 

I remember the first time I had a school friend come over.

I remember the saucer eyes on her face stepping into our living room. “Is that your magic flying carpet?” 

I remember when she lowered her toys and said “No offense, but your house smells like curry.”

I remember the humiliation that followed that statement, not yet having the ability and articulation to explain to her that the dish she named was about 2,327 miles east of where I am from. 

That the lingering scent she picked up on was the rice and okra stew my mother had

prepared for us with love in her heart, so I gave a curt apology instead.

I remember the efforts my mother made to solidify our culture in my mind. 

She went to extremes to make sure I felt as though I experienced something I had yet to see in the country we had resided in.

I remember Nawroz.

The one time a year I felt as though I was a frail flower ready to bloom on that first day of spring. Surrounded by gorgeous gowns that had hundreds to thousands of hand-stitched beads and sparkles. 

The one time of the year where I could flaunt the stunning outfit I had imported directly from Kurdistan.

I remember wondering if this is what it felt like to live in Kurdistan,  overwhelmed with the number of my own people I saw.

It no longer felt like we were in a park downtown, but we were at a sayraan in the mountains.

I remember spending near a half-hour lugging huge blankets and pots heavy with food up the hill until we found a spot that wasn’t preoccupied. By the time we had found a spot, the air was flooding with the aroma of my favorite Kurdish dishes. 

I remember being especially excited if my parents would combine our blanket with a family friend’s blanket, knowing that we would be spending the whole day together. 

I remember walking around the park with a group of girls, all of us were friends of one or another. Some older some younger. We’d pass by other groups of girls and begin discussing who heard what from who about one of the girls in the neighboring group.

I remember being so excited to dance, but being washed over by a wave of timidness once we had arrived at the site. 

I remember leaving the halparke line once a Badini song would come on, the dance style was different than what I knew, and I didn’t know how to move my arms.

I remember trying again 15 years later, I still don’t understand how to move my arms. 

I remember that no one wanted to be on the end of the line, that’s where all of the little kids were. We were obviously grown.

We’d scan the line in search of a familiar face who might let us cram ourselves in next to them, this was sure to bother the person who was originally next to them in line. 

I remember the few loving men of family friends in the line, those who felt like uncles to us. 

I remember whenever we would be too shy to jump in line, they’d always let go of whoever’s hand was next to them and wave us over.

I remember if you had forgotten the steps or perhaps had two left feet, they’d talk you through the footwork, never letting a smile leave their face.

I remember every now and then an American would come up to ask and ask us what’s going on, we’d simply reply that it was the Kurdish New Year.

I remember running back to my mom whenever I saw a particularly beautiful set of clothes on another woman. I’d boldly point her out and ask for a set with that color scheme for next year. 

I remember my mother bringing Nawroz to school. 

Every year of elementary school my mother would reach out to my current teacher asking to tell my class the story of Nawroz. 

While she died down on the gory details of the story, she had also dragged along a suitcase full of traditional Kurdish clothing for everyone to put on a piece as she taught them how to halparke (Kurdish dance).

She would bring a beautiful full set for the teacher to wear, as the children had scattered bits and pieces of the ensemble.

The young girls only wearing the undershirt or the overlay of the dress, one only wearing the headpiece. Meanwhile, the young boys either had a jacket, scarf, or a hat. 

What they all had in common was the look of concentration on their face as they so desperately tried not to stumble upon their own two feet while my mother attempted to break down the footwork to their level. 

I remember the excitement of sharing that part of my culture with my peers, I also remember that same excitement about sharing nawroz becoming humiliation in the following years.

I remember it becoming broken sobs in the dining room the night before as my mother prepared the bag, pleading her not to come in and humiliate me with our culture. 

No specific incident triggered the change of emotions, and it very well might have been the gaze of fellow maturing peers that made me desperate to force myself into some type of mold that would help me fit in.

I remember moving onto the sixth grade. 

I remember befriending a girl in my class, her name was Zainab.

I remember chatting on our iPods out of class, the same ones we spent ages begging our parents to buy.

I remember her asking me where I am from. 


I remember my hesitancy to finish that sentence. 

“North of Iraq.”

I remember being left on read all afternoon.

Only right before dinner did I get my response.

“My parents said I’m not allowed to be your friend anymore”. Oh. 

I remember frantically typing out a response, a million thoughts running through my mind, shortly cut off by the ping of my device. 

I had been blocked. 

While I never have and never will experience anything close to the likes of what my parents survived, it was that year that I would become exposed to the true feelings people had about my identity. 

I remember the boys from my gym class.Still growing into their bodies. While they didn’t have a grasp on the concept of deodorant, their clouded moral compass, and vile words were present.

All sorts of things were shouted. “Goat F****r,” “Terrorist” “Muzzie” “Go back to ISIS” and so on. 

ISIS? Was that not the group that was primarily targeting my people? I had never even heard of the phrase Muzzie before…and goats? Was this truly what they thought of me? 

I remember the humiliation; I wasn’t taught how to react in these situations. Do I say something back? Do I ignore them? 

I remember going home and telling my parents. It took a bit of convincing as I could not even bring myself to repeat the things that were said, especially the first one.

The anger I did not know how to express seethed out of them before I could finish explaining everything they said to me.

I remember being called down to the principals’ the next day where I was given a forced apology. 

I remember saying “it’s okay”, wanting to remove myself from the situation as soon as possible. The principal quickly interjected with something that has stuck with me to this day.

“Don’t say it’s okay. It’s not okay. You heard them apologize but you don’t owe them forgiveness. Instead, say Okay. Okay, I heard the apology. It doesn’t mean you forgive them.”

I remember sitting in that office saying “Okay” many times until I graduated onto high school.

I remember when Donald Trump had announced his campaign for the presidential election my Eighth-grade year. 

I remember a boy in my class had laughed in my face and told me I would be stripped of my citizenship and be deported.

He laughed as if this sorry excuse of a joke was the pinnacle of comedy, I laughed along bitterly trying to contain the comments I had that surely would have landed me in the principal’s office. 

I remember my freshman year of high school.

We were reading a book about a Palestinian war refugee from the 1900s. I was pulled aside by my English teacher and asked, “Can you relate to any of this?”. I remember the awkward tension around the brief conversation I wished didn’t occur. 

I remember sitting out in the courtyard for lunch. Spotting my friend walking down to the track with her gym class, we waved shouting her name.

A group of boys had shouted back to go back to ISIS. I remember the same rage that I felt in the eighth grade, the one that had caused me to bite my tongue in fear of consequence. 

I remember not giving a thought before I opened my mouth and allowed the colorful choice of words to flow.

I remember that was the first time I got a detention slip. Or seven, to be exact. 

I remember the gym teacher who had reported me catching me in the hall and apologizing, he had asked me to come down to the health room. The same class was in session, I could point out who shouted out those vile remarks and have them removed. 

I remember thinking about it, but nobody likes a snitch.

I remember my first boyfriend. I remember being foolishly enamored by him. 

I remember at a certain point he started calling me racial slurs. Endearingly of course. 

Sand Monkey, Terrorist, Bomber, and more I dare not repeat. 

I remember the discomfort I felt and being weak enough to decide to just ignore it. 

I remember mentioning it to a friend some years down, assuming things like that happen in a relationship and it’s just one of those sacrifices I had to make. 

I remember getting into an argument with him and snapping when he kept referring to my people as “Your kind.”. 

I remember looking back at our conversations years later absolutely shocked to see how long he had been masking his racism with humor and love and enraged at myself for allowing it to happen.

I remember Junior year when I was elected to be on homecoming court.

My spirits were high, but soon to be crushed as I made my way down to the school’s office to find out I was to walk arm and arm with one of the same boys who spent all of middle school calling me a terrorist.

My alternative was to switch with the other pair and walk with the boy who told me I was going to have my citizenship taken away and be deported in the eighth grade.

I walked with my first option. He wore an American flag clip-on tie. 

I remember sitting in the library before school started with my friends. They had asked about my homecoming weekend. 

I remember telling them that instead of heading over to a next-day party, I had gotten up early to head downtown for a protest.

I remember explaining to them how Turkey is once again ethnically cleansing my people. 

I remember explaining the situation in detail only to be cut off by one of the girls there.

“Turkish guys are so hot though oh my God. I really hope I marry one,” I remember the complete and utter shock that I could not wipe off my face. 

“Especially with their green eyes” another one chimed in. 

I remember getting up and going to class early that day. 

I remember being invited over to a Lebanese women’s house with my mother and sister. It was a play date for my sister, but they had daughters my age and the mother wanted to get to know my mother. 

I remember when she asked my mother where we’re from again. 


I remember waiting to see if she would repeat what I had practiced. 

She did not.

I remember the women ask us with uncertainty, “And you wouldn’t be offended to be called a Kurd?”

I remember her spending the better half of twenty minutes insisting she had never really heard of Kurdistan. 

I remember feeling like I was going to be sick. It’s one thing for the ignorance of an American whose concern does not go beyond the importance to their own country, but it is a sickly feeling to watch a neighboring country debate your existence.

“At the end of the day we’re all Arab,” she said with a warm laugh. It felt like a punch to the gut.

I remember another time we were hosting a Palestinian woman and her mother, yet again as another playdate for my sister. 

I remember as always getting onto the topic of Kurdish history. 

I remember my mother explaining in depth what Saddam Hussein had done to us, the two mothers had gotten closer through the school year and enjoyed chatting.

I remember the grandmother waiting for my mother to finish talking to wave her off, “I love that Saddam, such a good guy.”

I remember the mother’s cheeks flushing red in embarrassment. I remembered waiting for her to object her mother’s glorification of that monster, but it never came. 

“It’s a shame what they did to him. Wallah was one of the best leaders out there. Look at all he did for us (Palestine). Love the man.” 

I remember sitting in the living room in my own house listening to a woman proclaim her love for the man who had millions of Kurds killed. The man whose hatred for us heavily lingers through citizens across the Middle East to this day. The man who was close to having us wiped off the face of the planet.

I remember it took every ounce of strength and the grace of God for me to not pour the boiling pot of chai on her face. If I had ever been close to committing assault in my lifetime, it would have been in that moment. Alas, it was too early in my life to go to prison. 

I remember not having an extremely close bond with the Kurdish community here in St.


Many being people parents wouldn’t be very fond of their children forming friendships with. 

Being Sorani I was already a minority dialect, with a much smaller inner circle “community” compared to the Badini’s.

I felt isolated. I was too cultured to feel as though I fully related to and fit in with my American friends, but I was too American to spark any lasting friendships with anyone from back home. 

I watched the others at school have their own group and absolutely envied them. The Arabs had their own group, the Desi’s, the African Americans, the Spanish speakers, all had a friend group with a strong sense of cultural comfort and unity. I spent years longing for that.

To not have to explain myself or my traditions, to not have to give a brief history lesson once a week to make sense of whatever topic I wanted to bring up. 

To have friends who not only understood you but were like you. 

It was in those moments where I was filled with regret. Regretful my parents ever moved. Regretful my parents gave birth to me in the United States. Regretful that in the land of opportunity and dreams I constantly felt like I was tied down. Regretful I had to be attached to culture.

I spent years of my life wishing I was like the people I saw on TV.

Despite the loud and prideful persona I had put on display for everyone to see, my spirits were overflown by a brooding sense of resentment. It was something that I struggled with internally. 

The inner visualization I had of myself was not a young Kurdish woman, no. It was the same girl I’ve seen in my head since I was a child. 

The same girl I thought I would turn into as I grew up. Long blonde hair, tall, white, cheerleader. I spent my childhood fantasizing about becoming her. After all, that’s all that was presented to us in the media.

That was the girl everyone loved, that was the girl that had a boyfriend, that was the girl that had loads of friends, that was the girl that had great grades. That was the girl I would do anything to become.

I did not realize that this unrealistic visualization of myself was a problem. Years of my mind wandering off to when I become this girl, it was only until recently she made a reappearance in myself. 

She no longer had the friendly aura she once did when I was a child. The change in her demeanor still sends chills down my spine. Where she once sat at the top of the pyramid flaunting how happy and perfect she is has now be substituted with her harsh critiques on my life. 

Your skin looks dirty, you should stay out of the sun.

Your hair is too dark, have you thought about bleaching it? 

Where is the button nose? You’ll definitely need a nose job. 

You’re too short.

 You’re too cultured, you live in America. 

It’s annoying and ugly, detach yourself from that culture.

As long as you cling to it, life will only be harder. 

As long as you are like that, a white girl will always be chosen before you. 

You aren’t as pretty as a white girl. 

You aren’t as likable as a white girl. 

You will never be loved as much as a white girl. 

White girls will always be chosen before you. 

The last few repeat as a reminder, she chants it in my mind like a prayer.

 You aren’t as pretty as a white girl. You are not as likable as a white girl. You will never be loved as much as a white girl. White girls will always be chosen before you. 

I remember once it hit me. That after 18 years of my life, the imaginary girl

that I had been idolizing had been my own self-hatred in disguise. 

I wish I could say I have rid her of my mind, but old habits die hard. As long as the view on Kurdistan remains as it is, and the attitude of Americans surrounds me, she’ll have plenty to feed off of. 

I remember that despite all of the infestations and negative views in my mind, I can not allow the demonization of myself as a Kurdish women to impact my views of my country and culture as a whole. 

I remember being called the political friend whenever something of current news relating to Kurdistan came up, It seemed I always had an opinion on it. Though I would not call that being political, rather wanting to see total freedom and liberation for my people and land, who have endured so much already.

There is a phrase commonly said in the Kurdish language, “No friend’s but the mountains”. I have spent a lifetime being proven every single day how that statement is true for my people.

I remember making a promise to myself, no matter what the circumstances be, life or death, to represent my county with a heart full of pride. And as long as I am alive, I have no intention of putting out the fire within me to fight for my people in any way I can.