Editor’s Note: Krista Abboud’s piece, ‘Growing up as a Lebanese-American’ appeared on CNN iReport on Feb. 14, 2015. The following post chronicles her upbringing in modern Lebanese-American culture.
My name is Krista Abboud, and I’m a 25 year old female Lebanese-American. Both of my parents were born and raised in Lebanon. Taking that a bit further, everyone in my family was also born and raised there. I was the first person born here, making me a first-generation American.
It’s definitely a different lifestyle growing up with foreign parents and family, and I wouldn’t have changed that experience for the world. I have always considered it a blessing to be able to know two worlds, speak two languages, and have such a morally strong culture embedded in me.
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since I was a little girl, my parents would always speak to me in Arabic. They never wanted me to lose the language. They knew once I started school I would be speaking English non-stop, and they wanted me to master the art of both languages.
My grandparents on my dads side spoke no English at all, which probed me to always speak Arabic with them. My grandparents on my moms side knew a good amount of English, but also always spoke to me in Arabic for similar reasons.
My most fond memories growing up are the times I visited Lebanon with my parents. I remember it being something I always looked forward to. The weather, the food, the beach, the people — all of it felt like home away from home to me. Lebanon is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to.
Lebanese people have such a distinct culture, it was hard at first to mesh with my American friends. I always had a lot of Lebanese friends growing up, because we just understood each other. We were used to the ‘no boys’, ‘no sleeping outside of the house except at grandmother’s house’, ‘no speaking English’ atmosphere. Whereas, with my American friends, this was all a new and strict world for them to see.
I remember being envious of girls at a young age in my class that were allowed to have boyfriends and sleepovers. I always assumed they had much more freedom than me to go about things the way that they wanted to. I never understood why my parents were so strict, and why they disabled me from doing anything ‘fun’ at the time. It wasn’t until I grew up a little bit and started to understand the discipline, that I began to admire my parents and my culture in total.
My dads story is one I always tell to people, not only because he is extremely close to me, but also because it displays why he is such an amazing father, husband, and person in general.
My dad came to America in his late teen years with barely anything in his pocket. He worked at multiple jobs, he put himself through school, got himself an apartment, bought a car, and worked as hard as he could to build a better future. His story is the epitome of the ‘American Dream’ that people speak of. He came here with nothing, grew up with nothing, and somehow hard work allowed him to persevere in so many ways. That is one of the biggest reasons I admire him. He is the most humble person I’ve met. He is selfless and always seeking to do good and to help others.
My mom had quite a different story, but I think that is why her and my dad meshed so well. She grew up with a lot of money. Her dad flew her and my uncle here in their teen years and set them up at a nice apartment. She went to college at Duquesne University (where 20 some years later i ended up attending as well) and she met my dad through mutual Lebanese friends. Growing up with money never shaped my moms giving side. She had the money and she liked to spend it on others. My mom always made sure to teach me the do’s and don’ts of being a Lebanese woman. She is also the epitome of what a true Lebanese morally embedded woman is. I am blessed to be like her in a lot of ways.
Every summer I was inclined to go to Lebanon for a month or so, attend a Lebanese youth retreat, or to attend the National Apostolate of Maronites Convention (known as NAM). Our people really like to stick together in more ways than one. I started attending youth retreats, which enabled me to meet Lebanese Americans all over America (as we would all meet in a different city every year). This was beyond a cool experience for me. I got to meet people my age who were going through the same things I was, and actually understood me. It wasn’t weird for me to express to fellow first generation Lebanese Americans that I wasn’t allowed to do sleep-overs or have a boyfriend. The response I received was always coming from an understanding similar stance.
The stereotypes of growing up in a Lebanese household are usually funny but very true. You were told to be a doctor or a lawyer. (This devastated my parents to know after one year of law school, it wasn’t for me). You were told to only date and marry Lebanese people. (The thought process was because no one else fully gets our culture and why we do the things we do. Also, children growing up and speaking arabic was a key factor in thinking about who to marry.) Hummus, grape leaves, kabobs, rice, and other Mediterranean style food were consistently a part of my weekly menu. Which wasn’t so bad, Lebanese food is amazing and extremely healthy!
I would say the peak of understanding everything started when I was about 18 years old. I went back to Lebanon after not going for a few years. This trip was different for me. Maybe it was because I was maturing in a different way, but the stars aligned with certain things and I began to fully understand both worlds. I spent 3 and 1/2 months in Lebanon to test out if I could ever live there full time. The answer is probably not. Spending that much time away showed me how much I appreciate America and where I was born and raised. Lebanon is a beautiful place, but there is a reason everyone from my family came to America.
This trip showed me different things about my culture and why we are the way we are, why a lot of us think the way we think. Lebanon can be a bubble at times (for people who never got the opportunity to leave) and I consider it a blessing that my family was able to migrate here.
Through time, a lot has been revealed through my family Americanizing a lot of their ways. Don’t get me wrong, we still have the important factors of our culture and roots embedded in us — that will never go away. We still speak, read, and write Arabic as much as possible, we listen to the music, and we eat the food. There is just a bigger understanding now (for example for my parents) after living here for over 30 years they understand why things work differently than they do overseas.
It is funny to see a lot of modern culture using things I grew up doing and knowing about: I.E. hummus, hookah, belly dancing, etc.
I truly hope all Americans realize what they have here. Because, outside of these walls things are extremely different.
All in all, as I stated in the beginning of my passage, I would never change the way I grew up or the things I was subjected to for the world. Every aspect was a learning curve and humbled me, and also shaped me to become the person I am today.