Raya is 18 years old. She was born in Mclean, Virginia, but her family is from Damascus, Syria. She is currently a first-year at the University of Virginia studying public policy.
Growing up with Immigrant Parents
My name is Raya and I am the child of two first generation immigrants from Syria. I grew up in McLean, Virginia near many of my parents' friends from high school who immigrated at the same time as them. It is inspiring to hear their stories and learn about how difficult it was to leave their schools, family, and their friends back at home. Having now lived in America for over thirty years, my parents have formed a cultural community with their Syrian friends and integrated my brother and I into this lifestyle.
This community has acted as my support system over the last 18 years. They showed me that being family does not necessarily mean being related by blood. We are connected by the food we cook, the jokes we tell, the traditions we take part in, and the language we speak. Most of the older members in this community including my grandparents don’t speak a lot of English so this has encouraged my brother and I to practice our Arabic. I continue to regret that I never took classes to learn Arabic growing up because I am now only able to understand and speak a minimal amount, but I am unable to read or write. Learning Arabic has helped me feel included in my Syrian culture and without it I wouldn’t be able to communicate with a lot of people in my family. I began taking French in middle school because most of my family speaks both French and Arabic. In Syria my parents and their friends were expected to learn at least 2-3 languages fluently, so my family continued to encourage me to practice both my French and Arabic throughout high school. Learning new languages is a unique experience because it allows you to meet a new network of individuals and explore a new culture, however it has also gotten very confusing to grow up speaking English to my friends but then hear my family speak French and Arabic at home.
Being born in America but having grown up with a Syrian background, I have been able to play the role of the link in our Syrian community. My parents will always be connected to their Syrian roots, but they are slowly adjusting to the American lifestyle. I, on the other hand, was born in America and have lived by the norms of this country my whole life, yet I still use my family background to mold my perspectives in a new way. I look forward to bringing my future children into this community and sharing all of the wisdom I have acquired with the generations that follow my own.
Due to the unfortunate current day situation in Syria, it is very difficult for my family to travel back to what we all see as our home. Our Syrian community in northern Virginia has allowed us to preserve a culture which we have all been distant from.
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