Najla Said, daughter of the late Palestinian intellectual and leading post-Modernist Edward Said, tried to ignore the Palestinian culture and heritage handed down to her by her parents in their Manhattan home when she was young.
But the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the subsequent souring of attitudes towards Arab-Americans, caused her to think again. After staging a one-woman show called Palestine in New York in 2003, Said decided to describe her childhood in her debut memoir, Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family. Excerpts from the book were published on Sunday on the Salon cultural affairs website.
“I am a Palestinian-Lebanese-American Christian woman, but I began my life as a WASP,” writes Said in her new book. “I was baptized into the Episcopal Church and sent to an all-girls private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, one that boasts among its alumnae such well-groomed American blue bloods as the legendary Jacqueline Onassis. It was at that point that I realized that something was seriously wrong — with me.”
She tells of the differences between her and the other pupils.
“I was proud of my new green blazer with its fancy school emblem and my elegant shoes from France. But even the most elaborate uniform could not protect against my instant awareness of my differences. I was a dark-haired rat in a sea of blond perfection. I did not have a canopy bed, an uncluttered bedroom, and a perfectly decorated living room the way my classmates did. I had books piled high on shelves and tables, pipes, pens, Oriental rugs, painted walls, and strange houseguests. I was surrounded at home not only by some of the Western world’s greatest scholars and writers — Noam Chomsky, Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer, Jacques Derrida, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion — but by the crème de la crème of the Palestinian Resistance.”
For more, go to Haaretz