Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family
Author: Said Najla
The daughter of a prominent Palestinian father and a sophisticated Lebanese mother, Majla Said grew up in New York City, confused and conflicted about her cultural background and identity. But while her father and brother shared a passion for debate about the politics of the Middle East and her mother held on deeply to her Lebanese roots, Said was satisfied to be her father's darling daughter, content with her life on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Her home life was rich and embracing, but outside her apartment she felt entirely unsure about who she was supposed to be, and often in denial of the differences she sensed between her family and those around her. She may have been born a Palestinian Lebanese American, but in her own mind she grew up first as a WASP (baptized Episcopalian in Boston; attending Chapin, the wealthy Upper East Side girls' school), then as a teenage Jew, essentially denying her true roots, even to herself, until well into adulthood. The fact that her father was Edward Said - the famous intellectual, founding father of postcolonial thought, and outspoken advocate for the political and human rights of the Palestinian people - only made things more complicated.
Said knew that her parents identified deeply with the countries they had come from, but growing up in a Manhattan world that was defined largely by class and confirmity, where she felt her family was a cultural island all its own, she sought comfort by fitting in with ther peers, until, ultimately, the psychological toll of her self-hatred began to threaten her health.
As she grew older, and made increased visits to Palestine and Beirut, Said's worldview shifted. The attacks on the World Trade Center, and some of the ways in which Americans responded, finally made it impossible for her to continue to pick and choose her identity, and allowed her to see herself and her passions more clearly. In Looking for Palestine, she shares the journey to this understanding and the experience of growing up in an immigrant family and learning to embrace its cultures.
Praise for Looking for Palestine
'Najla Said's Looking for Palestine is a compassionate and candid book on her courageous coming-of-age in contemporary America. Said is a brilliant, talented, and sensitive artist with a larger-than-life, loving father.' Professor Cornel West
'A deeply penetrating, often hilarious, and occasionally devastating account of growing up Arab-American. After finally finding the conviction to be at peace with herself, Najla Said has written more than a memoir. Looking for Palestine is a survivor's guide for all of us who live with that feeling of being out of place wherever we are.' Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America
'Thoughtful, searching, and open-eyed, Looking for Palestine takes readers on a journey into an Arab-American girl's search for identity . . . A haunting and singular life story.' Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent
'It can be a difficult story to tell: that of one's discontent in the midst of privilege. And yet with great skill, humor, and poignancy, Said accomplishes just that. In the end, she is her late father's great inheritor, ever journeying toward that elusive home.' Alicia Erian, author of Towelhead