Asma Barakat, 1st Generation Palestinian-American
Interviewed by Shanaz Deen in New York City, 08/04/22
Transcribed by Asma Barakat, 08/13/22
(00:00) Shanaz Deen: Hi, this is Shanaz Deen interviewing Asma Barakat on August 4, 2022, and this interview is taking place in person in New York City. So why don’t you start by telling me where you’re from, where your family’s from and what your childhood was like growing up?
(00:14) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so I was born in North Bergen, New Jersey. I’m Palestinian, and my family is from a small village on the outskirts of Ramallah. It’s a village called Deir Debwan. My mom was actually born in Puerto Rico, in Ponce, and almost all of her siblings were also born there. But my mom is the oldest. And when she was about 10 years old, they did move back to Deir Debwan in Falasteen, and my dad was born and raised in Deir Debwan, so he was just there his whole life. And when my parents got married, my mom did live in Deir Debwan for about 10 years, when she was 20. She got married, and then they moved to the Bronx initially, and then after about a year, they went and settled in New Jersey.
(01:07) Shanaz Deen: So can you tell me a little bit about the stories you heard growing about… growing up about the village your parents are from?
(01:15) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so when I was a kid, you know, I feel like they didn’t tell us too many stories. But Palestine was always on the news. Because Al Jazeera was always playing when I was a kid, like, constantly on the TV. So I feel like they didn’t have to tell us too much. I mean, when they would call my grandmothers who are still back in Deir Debwan. Then we would just hear small things like, Oh, how were how are things going on at this time? And, you know, are you getting… Are there a lot of problems going on? Like with the occupation, it was more so a lot of things like that. But they didn’t tell us too much. Like when I was really young, I think at this time, I’m thinking of myself before I was 10. So at that point, they weren’t. They didn’t really sit us down and be like, oh, yeah, this was a culture back there. We kind of just grew up knowing we were Palestinian, and then there were just like… the culture was so embedded in us that they almost didn’t need to sit and tell us so much if that makes sense. But, yeah, most of the time, it was just kind of hearing on the phone, how’s the occupation now? What’s going on? Is there trouble? Yeah.
(02:47) Shanaz Deen: I guess what was your first memory? Like understanding the occupation? Like how old are you? What did that conversation look like?
(02:54) Asma Barakat: I think, again, it was, before, I was 9-ish before I was 10-ish, because I did go to Palestine when I was 9. But before then, again, Palestine was constantly on the news, because during this time, the early 2000s, it was the Second Intifada. So, all the bad things are on the news all the time. And I was so weird as a kid where I didn’t even like, I mean, I obviously didn’t have like the words to process it. But I didn’t even think to myself, like, Oh, why is it… Why are these things happening in Palestine? And why are they not happening here? And even when I went to Palestine, when I was nine, I didn’t even think so much like, I don’t know, I almost just didn’t pay attention to anything. I was just, Okay, this is how things are. I don’t know, it was weird.
(03:50) Shanaz Deen: I mean, it’s hard to understand all that complexity when you’re nine. But tell me a bit about that first trip. Who did you go with? Where did you visit?
(03:58) Asma Barakat: Yeah. So I went with my mom and I have two older brothers. So it was just us. My dad stayed behind in the US. And we went for about two months in the summer. And we did go to Deir Debwan. So we stayed at my grandparents house, we would spend the weekdays at my paternal grandmother’s house and the weekends we would stay at my maternal grandmother’s house. So we would split our time between. We did visit Al Quds, Jerusalem, and we visited Ramallah too, that’s pretty much the major cities that we visited, we pretty much stayed in Deir Debwan because when we went, when my mom you know, my mom was alone taking three kids and she was nervous. It was her first time going back after she left to go to the US. So she was nervous going back with three kids. And also, I think we went the year after the Second Intifada ended. So like, maybe she was like nervous about… so we didn’t really venture out too much.
(05:04) Shanaz Deen: Did you notice any differences between your village and a major city like Al Quds?
(05:09) Asma Barakat: Yes, I noticed that it was so much more chaotic in the cities, especially Jerusalem. I remember when we went to Jerusalem, I do have some family who do live in Jerusalem. So we would go visit those family members. I just remember it being so much hotter there, the sun hitting the cement, it was so much hotter than it was in Deir Debwan. I don’t know why I felt that. But, it was a lot more chaotic. The checkpoints, getting into the cities, for sure I remember those because we would always take a bus and then the IOF would stop the bus and then they would get on the bus. And everyone would have to show their passports or IDs or whatever. So I remember it being such a journey to have to go to major cities, and I realized that’s why my mom didn’t really like to go to them very often because it was such a hassle.
(06:00) Shanaz Deen: Could you describe since most of your time was in your village, like what family life was like during those two months?
(06:06) Asma Barakat: Yeah, it was like… I always say, the only time I really enjoyed my childhood was when I was in Palestine. I remember, so, in the States as a kid, my parents were super strict, because they didn’t trust anyone. And they were like, you know, you’re gonna get kidnapped if you go out by yourself. But when I was in Palestine, I was so shocked that my mom didn’t even ask me about where I was or what I was doing. She was like, go be free, go and do whatever you want. Because she wasn’t scared. Because in our village, it’s really small in the sense that there’s three, like, tribes or clans or whatever you would call them. And everybody literally everybody knows everybody. Like, truly, your neighbors are your neighbors for like, they’ve been your neighbors for the last eighteen.. 100,000 years. You know what I mean? Like, they were people. So you have your plot of land and your family houses are on it. So like, people don’t move around. So everybody knows, if you… if I tell my mom a family name, like she’ll know, what area those people are living in, and like, what’s surrounding their house. Because I don’t know, it’s just like a very, permanent life there. People don’t move around. Everybody knows everybody. And I always felt like, oh my god, I have so much more freedom in Palestine, ironically, than I do in the US. But yeah, it was such a nice time. Like my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, she had this garden, and she grew a ton of fruit, so I remember like, she would have all this, like extra tomatoes she had, she would give me a basket and send me to her friend’s houses and be like, yeah. She asked and be like, go give, my friend.
(08:01) Shanaz Deen: Little red riding hood.
(08:02) Asma Barakat: No, literally. Should be like, go give, you know, my friends, some extra tomatoes. And I don’t know, we got to like eat fruit off the tree. It was just so fun. Such a vibe. Those are the good times. Because, you know, obviously, the IOF would come sometimes, but I’m not thinking about those times, yeah, you could just like walk everywhere. It was just so freeing, I guess. Yeah.
(08:33) Shanaz Deen: What are the names of the three tribes? And what are the dynamics look like now compared to like, centuries ago?
(08:39) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so it’s Sarama, Awadeh, and Manasara. And they’re like, the three major families, and then it kind of branches off, people kind of belong to, you know, one, or if they marry into another tribe, they belong to both or whatever. But yeah, so what I do know is that certain areas of the village are more known to be like, oh, like, that’s where, the Awadeh live or the other part of the village, that’s where Manasra live. I am Sarama, so I guess the area that we live in, probably has a lot more of like Sarama people surrounding us our neighbors and stuff. But yeah, everyone gets along. It’s not really too… I don’t know where they really originated from. Very long time ago, but no beef between anyone. Yeah.
(09:37) Shanaz Deen: Could you describe a bit about the cultural aspects of your village, the time you spent there in Palestine and how that might differ from the way you were raised in the US, in New Jersey?
(09:49) Asma Barakat: Yeah. Well, when I, going back to what I said, when I went I had so much more freedom to do whatever I wanted. And it was funny because my parents never sat us down and like really told us anything. So I was… I remember being so nervous, because I thought I was gonna come home late or I thought, Oh, my mom doesn’t know where I am and my cousin wanted to go to this place. And I would tell my mom, she literally wouldn’t even care. And I was like, you should have told me that, you don’t care about these things anymore. Because in the US, it would have been such a different story. I mean, especially since this was before the age of 10. So I probably wasn’t even like going out with friends because I didn’t live in the white picket fence, suburban type of neighborhood. So it wasn’t like, oh, go next door and play with your friends. Like, No, I lived next door to a bar. So, yeah, it was just, I guess, more trusting. My mom just let me do whatever I wanted. She knew everybody and everyone knew, I remember I would go into stores and I would buy a slushie or go play with my cousins and some random stranger to me would be like, oh, who are you? And I would tell them, oh, this is my mom’s name. This is my dad’s name. They’ll be like, Oh, we know you, I’ll be like, okay, cool, even though I don’t know this person. So it was just Yes, super tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone. And I guess a feeling of safety and freedom. Yeah.
(11:24) Shanaz Deen: Could you describe the religious character of your family both extended and immediate?
(11:29) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so this is… I think about this all the time because I grew up thinking my parents were super religious. And I think in comparing myself to a lot of my American friends, my family could be seen as very religious. But then when I compare it to my extended family my extended family is much more religious like they’re super religious the ones who live back in Palestine because my my father’s side of the family, primarily they do still live in Palestine and then pretty much all of my mother’s side of the family live in the US besides like my grandmother, and regardless of where they live, they are both pretty religious, my mom and my dad were actually the least religious out of both sides of the family. So yeah, I remember always growing up thinking they were super religious but I think my family, my immediate family was more culturally conservative because when I grew up and I started hearing like how, maybe, more religious families were, I was like, oh, that’s not, that’s not how my family is, my family- I’ve actually never been in a mosque in the US like the only mosque I’ve ever been into was Al Aqsa mosque so I guess my family’s like not very religious we do fast for Ramadan. That’s pretty much the one thing growing up that I could be like, this is a religious, Muslim thing. Ramadan and Eid but other than that, I feel everything else was more of culturally conservative aspects and religion like wasn’t growing up, looking back on it, they weren’t very religious.
(13:18) Shanaz Deen: I have so many questions. I guess it makes sense. Could you describe your memory in Al Aqsa? And also like, I’m assuming that your family in Palestine, you consider your extended family and could you describe what you observed religiously? And how that compared to maybe your immediate family in the US?
(13:45) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so again, my mom did not really tell us anything. So I remember when we did go to the Sakhra and Al Aqsa and just like the whole Al Aqsa compound, I was so young and so we kind of really went as tourists. My mom didn’t pray there. And I was so young, I did not know how to pray I actually still don’t know how to pray. And yeah, my brothers were like under the age of 17. So we kind of just went as tourists I remember when we would see like certain things because… and I forget which part like which specific building it is in, but there’s like a certain green light. And it’s supposed to be something about the Prophet Muhammad or Allah just things, religious things that I didn’t know about. I remember my mom would point at it and teach us while we were there, like, oh, this is this and I won’t be like, oh, I didn’t know this was gonna be a religious thing. You know. I was so clueless when I was a kid. But, yeah, I remember Oh my gosh, when I was in, in Deir Debwan back in my village, my cousin took me to the local mosque and I was so nervous, and she put me in a hijab. I was like, Oh my God, what’s going on? I was so nervous. I didn’t like it at all. And when we went into the mosque, there was this lady there. And I guess she asked us, Can I help you? Like, what do you need? And I was just like, no, we’re leaving now. And we ran out of the mosque. I like, yeah, I don’t know. I was so uncomfortable in that situation. Probably because I didn’t grow up, going to mosques in the US. And my parents never really talked about that stuff. So, yeah.
(15:51) Shanaz Deen: Why do you think your parents held on to Ramadan and fasting in the US out of all of the practices?
(15:56) Asma Barakat: Yeah, that’s actually really interesting. I do wonder, I never asked them this, but I feel like my mom would probably say, because we’re Muslim, so we have to fast. But I feel maybe because Ramadan, and Eid are kind of events that you can partake in. And they’re holidays. So there’s a set time for them. So it’s kind of being a part of something. Whereas maybe someone’s daily religious practices are more personal. And it’s kind of something you just have… that’s something you moreso have to do yourself. I know, a lot of parents try to push their kids into, you know, maybe reading the Quran or whatnot. But yeah, I feel like maybe because it was this set calendar date event that everyone can participate in. I feel like that’s probably why they did it.
(16:56) Shanaz Deen: And then speaking a bit more personally, how do you think your religious journey or relationship with Islam has changed?
(17:03) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so it’s definitely changed a lot throughout the years when I was younger. Again, I thought my family was religious. But when I got older, I realized they were more culturally conservative. And a lot of the things that I considered negative that were… now that I know are culturally conservative things. I remember hating, why are you… like an example is clothing and a more modest… having to dress like a bit more modestly, like don’t wear short shorts when you’re 16. And I was just like, why? What is this religious thing that you’re making me do? But I feel like it was just more culturally weird for them. Because I guess in Palestine, you don’t, at least in my village growing up, my parents probably didn’t see, 18-year-olds running around in short shorts. So they were like, that’s not a thing that we do as Palestinians. Not that Palestinians don’t do that. Like, obviously, we don’t have a set of rules and regulations. But yeah, so I remember associating the bad culturally conservative things with religion. And then when I was 18, I had this, I didn’t pick this for me, I didn’t, you know, choose to be Muslim. So I don’t want to do this anymore. And I was like, why am I even fasting during Ramadan? Like, I never picked that for me. So I was in my rebellious phase, and I was 18 and I was like, why am I doing these things? Like, what the heck? So I actually stopped fasting when I was 18 for Ramadan and I did not fast again until this past Ramadan. Not because I got back into religion I still would not ever call myself religious but I think once I saw how, especially in 2021 the attacks on Al Aqsa and just like the attacks in general during Ramadan, I kind of wanted to start fasting again, not more of a religious… through a religious aspect, more so through like a solidarity with Palestine type of aspect. So yeah, I’m older now. And I’ve like learned more about trying. It’s hard to separate religion and culture. But now I realized, everyone can just do whatever they want and it doesn’t have to be that deep. So now I’m more at peace with it. And I do still identify as Muslim. I think I always will. Yeah.
(19:50) Shanaz Deen: Why do you think it’s so important to identify as Muslim?
(19:55) Asma Barakat: So actually, someone asked me this when I was in like high school when I was having you know, those deep talks with your friends and my friends older sisters and I was like, you know, I’m not really like, religious, I don’t really care about Islam. I know some people will scream when they hear that, but one of my friends, older sisters, she was like, Well, why do you still call yourself Muslim? And I was like, Muslims get such a bad reputation. And I really hate the whole ex-Muslim persona. I was like, I would never, I personally would never identify as an ex-Muslim, even if I’m not doing religious things. But um, I think just because yeah, I don’t know. I know, a lot of Palestinians are Muslim. And I guess it is kind of just like… religion, regardless of if you’re Muslim, or Christian does have like a significance in Palestine. So yeah, I feel it’s not that… too deep for me. I’m just like, yeah, okay. I’m Muslim.
(21:04) Shanaz Deen: Just part of you.
(21:05) Asma Barakat: Yeah.
(21:06) Shanaz Deen: So thinking about like, all your morals, whether they’re religious or not. What things like from your community, from your family call you to think about Palestine? Its liberation, its occupation?
(21:19) Asma Barakat: Yeah. I feel… I don’t know, I was such a weird kid. I know, people talk about people talk a lot about when they started questioning things, you know, it might happen for people when they’re teenagers, but I feel like I was always questioning everything. Like, even this goes back to when I was a kid. And, I felt like I was different than other people living in America, because my parents, had these cultural rules, my parents growing up would always say, we are not American. “Ihna mish ajanib, we are Palestinian.” And I was like, that’s cool. But, why can’t I.. why does that mean I have to- I can’t do certain things or act a certain way or whatever? So I was always like, questioning when I saw, injustice, I don’t know. Even yeah, I don’t know, I was always as a kid, I remember being like an 8-year-old being, like, don’t treat me different than my brothers like to my parents. So I feel like, I don’t know, I just always recognized when people were being mistreated, and I always really hated it. So I think that just kind of grew as I became older. And then, I don’t know, kind of finding your own relationship with Palestine. When you become a teenager or like young adult. I was just like, yeah, no, these are my people and what’s happening is fucked up.
(22:57) Shanaz Deen: Was there a specific moment where you started to develop your own relationship?
(23:02) Asma Barakat: I feel like it started slowly, and I didn’t realize it when it was starting. But I think when social media got super… when it was just easier to see things about other places on social media. I’m thinking specifically of, I think, the summer of 2014, there was a really bad attack on Gaza, in the summertime and I remember, like… Yeah, I saw a lot of things about the Second Intifada on the news and Al Jazeera on the news that my parents would just talk about at home. But that was kind of the first time I was seeing news about Palestine on my own iPhone. So I was just seeing a lot more. I remember Vine was in at the time, so there were like all these like Vines about people in Gaza putting out videos and Vines about what was happening. And it was a lot more raw than the censored news is going to show you so I remember… I think looking back on it now, probably when I was that 16-year-old in 2014 or however old I was, actually being able to see what’s going on in Palestine without needing a mainstream news or without needing my parents to tell me something. That’s when I was like, Oh, shit.
(24:30) Shanaz Deen: And what is your relationship with Palestine look like now? A few years later.
(24:37) Asma Barakat: Like, if I’m close or if I’m super, like what do you mean?
(24:44) Shanaz Deen: I guess like you obviously think about Palestine every single day. So like, what does that look like?
(24:51) Asma Barakat: Yeah, I’m like literally entirely consumed by Palestine. I know a lot of Palestinians have a joke where it’s like, oh, being Palestinian is my only personality trait but no, it literally is, like no joke. I pretty much try to do everything in a way for it to revolve around Palestine. So if I’m going to go get a degree if I’m going to go to school, I’m gonna try to make it about Palestine. If I get a job, I’m going to try to make it about Palestine. Yeah, I don’t know, I just want… it’s all-encompassing, I just need it to be the center point of my life always. It really is my biggest identity. I don’t know, it is. I don’t even know who I would be if I wasn’t Palestinian, literally, I don’t even know. Yeah, it just, it makes it all my decisions on everything else. And all my beliefs and all of my, whatever, political beliefs or social beliefs, everything comes back to Palestine, Palestine has taught me so much. And yeah, I just want to, like give my life to Palestine [laughs].
(26:07) Shanaz Deen: How do you think being, I guess your first generation in the diaspora? How does your place in the diaspora differ from previous generations? Or maybe even subsequent ones?
(26:16) Asma Barakat: Yeah, I think especially growing up in the time, where one, social media is super prevalent, but also, I would- I feel like the generation that I’m in and I guess I’m Gen Z, but I guess even Millennials too, I don’t know, we’re kind of like, lumped into one group a lot of times, I feel. But I feel like we’re kind of the largest generation of Palestinians in America. I don’t know if I’m like making that makes sense. But I feel like a lot of people came to Palestine- came to America when my parents did and had their families here around that same time. So I feel like our generation is maybe- the Palestinian Millennial/Gen Z generation is maybe a lot larger than older generations. So I feel like we have a very strong presence in the diaspora now. And I think that helps us a lot. Because, you know, the settler entity, wanting to get rid of us, and they didn’t really realize that when they were making, you know, either conditions unlivable to the point where people fled, my parents fled during the First Intifada, in the 90s. So, you know, they didn’t realize, we were going to exist in other places, and we are going to teach people about where we’re from, and our culture and what’s going on back in our home. And that really has kind of given us a leg up. One that maybe previous generations didn’t have, I think, maybe in the 80s or even the 90s I think it was maybe super, super taboo to bring up Palestine just from things that I see or hear about I know for my mom and my aunts and uncles, their generation, they will kind of accept a crumb, kind of from any sort of validation. They’re super shook when they see non-Palestinians who support Palestine they’re like, how do they even know what Palestine is? What? How? They’re so shocked. And I’m just like, ya no, people know now. Um, so yeah, I think our generation like differs because more people are aware. And probably because we’re such a big generation now in the diaspora, we are helping people become aware and that’s I don’t know, it’s just helping us in general.
(29:03) Shanaz Deen: Do you find that it’s easy to find other Palestinians in diaspora and is it easy to connect with them because of that shared identity?
(29:09) Asma Barakat: I think it depends where are you are you know I have lived in New Jersey my whole life so there is a massive, massive Palestinian community in New Jersey and New York City. So it’s super easy like I’ll literally be wearing my kuffiyeh and walking down the street and I’ll have people like honk their horns and be like free Palestine and I know it’s a 50-year-old uncle, guy. I am like, I probably know your daughter or your niece or something. We’re all really connected in this, you know, part of the US so it’s really easy to meet other Palestinians. I always laugh when I meet a Palestinian and they find out I’m Palestinian then they get surprised and I’m just like, dude, we’re like everywhere, what do you mean why are you surprised? But it doesn’t always make us connect when we meet, because I think it depends on what their beliefs are. Sometimes I’ll meet people who may be ultra-conservative, and they kind of get disappointed when they see that I’m not them. So I think it kind of depends. I feel like the group that I’m generally around, the Palestinians who are my age, we’re all pretty much… we have the same beliefs and principles and the same vibe, so to say, so it’s really easy to connect in that way. But yeah, I think if I met Palestinians, through my parents, then it wouldn’t be as easy to connect, because they might be very different.
(30:52) Shanaz Deen: What are the vibes of your community?
(30:53) Asma Barakat: I would say, we just, I hate the word woke I don’t use that word. But yeah, we’re very aware of what’s going on here and in Palestine, and we are very anti any sort of bigotry and pro-liberation for all peoples. So pretty much people who, our vibes are just people who, who just let people live, live and let live. That’s our vibe.
(31:39) Shanaz Deen: You’re very, you said you were just woke about things going on here. And of course, the US is very messed up. But what’s it like socially living as a Palestinian in America? Having to live in this country? And knowing it’s largely responsible for the occupation in Palestine? What brings you resilience and strength? Happen to be here.
(32:00) Asma Barakat: Yeah, yeah, it’s hard. I mean, I go back and forth with this, because sometimes, well, I really hate living in America. And I understand we definitely have privilege here. Because obviously, my parents left because there was no, you know, basic necessities, it was so hard to even go to school. If you want to go to another city, there’s a checkpoint, if you want to go to a hospital, there is a checkpoint, you will literally die on the way, it’s so hard to just survive there. So obviously, we have access to a lot more things in the US. But yeah, this place is not. It’s just I don’t know, sometimes I’ll literally look up at the sky and be like, where did God placed me in this world? Literally, why am I here in this small town in New Jersey? Why is this my life? I just feel like it’s a foreign place all the time. And it’s hard enough knowing that, you know, all these taxes almost $4 billion a year go to massacring my people, and literally my family and all that stuff. But even just the microaggressions, on a daily basis, it’s just, ugh it’s just such a drag, it really is. And I know it’s dealing with different issues, here versus Palestinians in Palestine have to deal with literal guns in their faces 24/7, pretty much and home demolitions, so it’s not even comparable, but, you know, people struggle everywhere, I guess, in different ways. But yeah, I just try… I try to be educated, I try to be… maybe my purpose to be in the diaspora is to make sure other people are educated and call out all the Zionism around me that I see. And I mean, it, it is slightly getting better, back in, you know, boycotts, are getting more, they’re getting stronger, and more people are becoming aware and jumping on the bandwagon. So yeah.
(34:25) Shanaz Deen: Do you think your parents feel similarly about living in the US?
(34:33) Asma Barakat: Like if they feel like it’s a drag? I talk about this a lot with with my mom. Where- so my mom was a stay at home wife, a housekeeper. I don’t know what she likes to- the words she likes to use. So I feel like she, she knows, obviously, she knows, and I tell her things, so she knows the US is Israel’s biggest ally, and they give all this money and she is like, anti-America. Yeah, my family is. But I think, because she she never worked in the US and she didn’t go to school here. So she- when I tell her about a lot of the offhanded comments that I’ll get it at either places- like my place of employment or school, she’ll be like, What the hell, she’s kind of shocked by it sometimes. Which is like, I mean, this country does give $3.8 billion a year. So are you shocked by a comment? But, I don’t know, I think the older that I get, my mom kind of like, she always like lowkey agrees with me, which I love. Like, when I grew up and started learning about things that I didn’t know, as a kid, like other, you know, movements for justice and other movements for liberation, I would talk to my mom about it. She’d be like, “You know what, yeah, that is fucked up”. So like, I’m glad that I have a mom who listens to me and is like, oh, yeah, you’re right. But, I think when I was a kid, she might not have thought that way. But as I get older, and I tell her like, sometimes I do tell her like, I wish you had just stayed in Palestine. And I know that, I know, home demolitions. And going to school is, it’s so hard to get a college education because of checkpoints, and the money and there’s no work, and I know all of that struggle, but, even our position in the US, we struggled financially a lot here and, the lack of- we do live in a very largely Palestinian area, but we still have a lack of a personal community. So sometimes, I’m just, I hate being in this country. Like, I wish you guys had just had us in Palestine. She’s like, Yeah, I wish you guys had IDs, and we could live there because my parents got divorced in 2020. We’re not in contact with my dad anymore. So I think ever since then, just like the transition into, you know, living in the US is not cheap, especially in this is one of the most like expensive areas of the US. So it’s just all the struggles that we’re facing here. I’m just like, damn, I could be living with my grandma right now, not paying rent. But I mean, I’m like, Yeah, I feel like nowadays, she talks a lot about like, having regret that we didn’t get like a Hawiya because the Hawiya is like the ID that your parents can pass off to you when you turn 16 and our parents didn’t do that. I think they struggled with whether to, I guess, sponsor us for one, I don’t know the term, but they struggled because it’s like when you don’t have the Hawiya, you can’t really ever go back and live in Palestine. But if you do have one then when you visit, you typically have a harder time getting in and with investing- interrogations and even getting into Jerusalem I think you need to apply for extra permits and extra visas so it’s a lose-lose situation a lot of times for Palestinians. Um, but yeah, I think like nowadays me and my mom have like a lot of conversations about it about if we had the possibility to move back to Palestine, so we definitely talked about life is a drag in America, it definitely is. And she pretty much all of my mom’s side of the family is in the US, but none of them live near us. They all live in California, Florida, so they’re all pretty far away. And I think she really… it affects her a lot to have like that lack of community by her and fam- there’s no family around us. We’re alone in New York and New Jersey. So yeah, she totally agrees it’s a drag here.
(39:41) Shanaz Deen: I’m changing topics a little but can you tell us a little bit about your favorite hobby and why you picked it up?
(39:49) Asma Barakat: Yeah, so I do tatreez which is Palestinian embroidery, cross stitch embroidery. So I, my mom learned when she was a kid in Deir Debwan, she learned because her neighbor was an embroiderer. And she taught my mom and taught a lot of my aunts how to do it. But my mom did not teach me how to do it. But, when I was… in like 2020, when we were in the quarantine pandemic, I was, I’m bored, and I want to learn how to do something. And I feel like 2020 was a time where a lot of people, you know, we had a lot of time to maybe read more about stuff, or get more educated on certain things social in the social world. But yeah, it was like, you know, I want to pick up something that I probably would have learned if I was living in Palestine. So I was like, yeah, I’m gonna just like, buy this kit off of Etsy and teach myself how to cross stitch. And I did, and now I make embroidery, I embroider literally every single day of my life. Yeah.
(41:12) Shanaz Deen: Do you find that it’s a way to connect with other Palestinians, whether that’s your family, or just like random people online?
(41:22) Asma Barakat: Definitely. I think, even my mom when she saw me learning and I embroider a lot now. So when she sees it, she, like, loves it and makes her… I think makes her proud. She is always happy when she sees it. And she’s like, Oh, my God, it’s so pretty. So. But, yeah, there’s a lot of people, especially in the diaspora, who I think, do tatreez to try to, like, get closer to their culture. And a lot of people on Instagram will kind of post about their tatreez journeys, and like making their first thobe and stuff like that. And it’s fun. Yeah, I, it is definitely a way to connect with people. And I don’t know, it just, it’s so cool. Even members of my family, when I tell them that I do it. They’re just like, oh my god, that’s so that’s so cool, I want to learn it’s, yeah, I don’t know. It’s very cool.
(42:21) Shanaz Deen: I forgot to ask you our favorite question. But what does home mean to you?
(42:27) Asma Barakat: Yes, our favorite question. Home to me, is obviously, like a physical place would be Palestine. I think especially, because, again, all the problems that my parents had, like growing up in the US, financially, and all the bullshit that comes with, just living in the US, renting. And all that stuff. I feel like I’ve always had like an unstable physical housing situation. So, I just, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve never had home. So I feel like home is Palestine. And also, home is just being around people that you love and who accept you for who you are. And sometimes when I go on vacations with my cousins, who live so far away, and I only get to see them once every two years or something. I’m like, damn, if we were all in Palestine if the occupation was never a thing. We could have all been chilling in Palestine. And we would have had access to each other all the time, and it would have been so fun and so cool. So I think my idea of home would be to be around all the people that I love, all the time, and ideally, it would be in Palestine, but you can have the people that you love anywhere with you so, so yeah, it’s both of those things, I guess.
(44:04) Shanaz Deen: Do you hope to visit Palestine in the future?
(44:07) Asma Barakat: Yes. I actually was supposed to go in 2020. Before the pandemic was a pandemic. I was like, ugh, I remember thinking, oh, it’s been, I don’t even know how many years at that point, maybe like 13 years or something since I had been so I was like, I’m finally gonna go and I was gonna go through a community center trip, so I wasn’t gonna go with my mom. And I was like, oh my god, I’m gonna go without family. I don’t know, like see, you know, Palestine without family. It was just such a cool opportunity then the pandemic hit, and I was just like, Oh, my God, the worst part was, I can’t go to Palestine this year. And then I don’t know everything was so, especially when you’re Palestinian, not only did Palestinians have to deal with the pandemic and a settler regime. But it was it’s hard to it was hard to try to plan to go. Because we were being told a lot of things by family members, oh, the settler colonial regime was using this as an opportunity to not have Palestinians enter because they’re going to use like, Oh COVID we’re not accepting travelers, but they were accepting white people or whatever. Um, so it was just like hard. Obviously in 2020, you just like couldn’t go and then 2021 it was like hard because we kept hearing these things about like, people potentially not wanting to let in- settlers potentially not wanting to let in Palestinians. And then I think this year was like the first year where travel to Palestine kind of started being how it was, pre-pandemic. So hopefully, I can go next year, because it does take a lot of like planning and like financial planning and like mentally preparing to be interrogated. So yeah.
(46:13) Shanaz Deen: And to wrap up questions that I’ll ask together, is there anything that you wish I’d asked or anything you want to add before we close the interview? And if future generations, especially future generations of Palestinians, listen to this, what do you hope that they hear or take away from the interview?
(46:29) Asma Barakat: I feel like you asked everything perfectly. Yeah, the questions were amazing. If future generations of Palestinians listen to this, hopefully, Palestine is free. But if we’re still in the struggle, then definitely, it’s hard. But, you know, Palestine will be free. I think a lot of people like, sometimes I’m always the one to, my friends, or my family members. They’ll always be like, but when, maybe people start to lose hope. They’re like, when is Palestine going to be free? Like, is it going to be within our lifetime, what the hell is going to happen? And I’m just like, no, Palestine will be free. Like, it’s not even just like a- it’s not a belief that I go back and forth about it’s like, to my core, it’s just a fact that I know, it is a fact, it’s going to happen. So like, don’t go back and forth. I know, we have like our crises, every once in a while, we are freaking out, like, what the hell is gonna happen? And we’re like, depressed all the time and we’re always suffering, whether you’re in the diaspora, or in Palestine, but yeah, Palestine is going to be free and just, it’s just a matter of when, and hopefully soon, and I think it will be within our lifetime. So just remember that and like never waver on that, on that belief, I guess. Yeah.
(48:04) Shanaz Deen: What an amazing note to end on. Thank you so much.
(48:08) Asma Barakat: Thank you.