What is Yaffaweya?

Arab women’s feminist voices have always run the risk of being discredited as anti-nationalist or anti-religious. Women in the Arab world have had more complex battles to fight than have feminists in the West with their strikingly different histories and circumstances… What are Arab feminisms? Meanings are not the same everywhere, that we know, but exactly in what way they differ we are still only discovering.”

– From “Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing” edited by Margot Badran and Miriam Cooke

Sand Angel by Hanna Ali Khliefat

What is a Yaffaweya? It is a female who is originally from Yaffa, Palestine by birth, by her father’s place of birth or in her paternal ancestry. It is how I identify myself amongst Palestinians, as it is where my paternal sense of home resides. Yet it has become much clearer to me, over time, that I feel a stronger connection with Safad, Palestine, my mothers birth home. My mother always kept my two sisters and I by her side, from the Oral History Museum in Boston in the early 1980’s, to diversity parades in Somerville in 1985, to the classes on Palestinian folk art that my mother taught in my elementary, junior and high schools. I am also most familiar about the life of a woman from Safad – her specific dress and embroidery patterns, her head dress, her home, personal interests and favorite verses from the Quran. So, in my heart, I actually feel more like a Safadeya.

This site is to share with you my thoughts and speculations on being an Arab woman in the 21st century. Through writing about Arab feminism and the bicultural identity, I attempt to explore political and personal structures that sculpt individuals and their collective. Through the complexities of our identity, Carol Hanisch’s famous words “the personal is the political” reminds us that our experiences in our personal relationships with people, institutions, organizations, agencies, and otherwise, are a result of a more systematic root cause.

We must find a way to strengthen within corrupt dictatorships, oppressive military regimes, or frankly, the limitations we have imposed on ourselves in our own minds that constrain our feminist dialogue. While the revolutions in the Arab world during 2011 have not proven to sustain much change in the region, they have proven that women and men can stand, and have stood, in solidarity with one another to fight for more. But Arab women are reminded that they must first pledge allegiance to religious, political and patriarchal agenda’s because it is for the greater good (yet is not), and our gender will come second. Hundreds of years of waiting our turn has shown us that very little has been done for the greater good and that no one, in fact, is taking turns.

My beautiful cousin, Rama, at Ayn el Fiji, Syria 2011

As an Arab-American and Palestinian-American, I have learned to keep my beliefs about being a woman, being a minority and being Palestinian to myself. I was taught to  assimilate and avoid the possibility of causing shame or embarrassment to my family. I grew up feeling like I had to hid my identity as an Arab, Palestinian and Muslim in a small town in Oregon. I mis-learned through young observation that since my skin is fair, I have the same privileges as the white population majority. I do have fair-skinned privilege, but there is a fundamental difference between what I have, and white privilege. I explore these constructs throughout my articles and poetry — and even my dreams.

I have learned that my experiences and lessons are actually universal — and anchor the consciousness of many minorities. Throughout their own histories, ancestries or by virtue of simply being a minority in America, they too feel “different” and that “different” is a scary place to be.

I decree freedom from the bondage that has kept me silent all these years. My mother, the strongest Palestinian woman I have ever known, did not teach me silence. My father, has taught me survival. My Palestinian brothers and sisters have taught me resistance and resilience in it’s most selfless form. I am not full of wisdom, but I am full of truth. And it is the intimate truth, my truth, that I will share in this blog. Welcome.