Libya's multicolored identity

August 31, 2010

For most of her history, Libya has been colonized by the Byzantines, Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, Arabs, and Berber, its indigenous people. Libyans are a rainbow of colors; in fact, even within my own family, you'll find varying degrees of skin, eye, and hair color. Because I have colored eyes and white skin, Libyan people will ask if I'm from the mountains, where some Berber tribes (some of them light skinned with blue eyes) live. In Libya, identity is convoluted and I take issue with the statement, "You don't look Libyan," because what does a Libyan look like? Libyans are not homogenous. Not just in the way they look but in the way they think and act and identify themselves. Our series of interviews with women across the political spectrum and public sphere have only served to highlight that, as we've met a Libyan born-woman from California who studied in German and married a Moroccan man, or another who was born and raised in Libya but identifies as a global citizen. As a Libyan woman born in the states, I have a different perspective about Libya than some of the women we've interviewed, but we are united in our connection and love for Libya. Libya is not foreign to me, yet I recognize I am not the same as a Libyan born and raised here. Growing up, I sometimes felt more American than Libyan, and Libya's political landscape and its relationship with the U.S. coupled by negative aftermath of the War on Terror and America's mistreatment of Muslims, influences how I see myself as a Libyan, as an Arab, and as a Muslim; yet my cultural heritage runs deep. At home, my brothers and sisters and I grew up speaking Libyan with my mother, English with each other and a mix of both when speaking with my father. Visiting Libya often served to both complicate and make sense of our identity, though we recognize it is different for each and every one of us. Here in Tripoli, there's been an influx of Libyans like me, who were born and raised abroad but recently came back for work, and to reconnect with their ancestral homeland. I've spoken with young men who never set foot in Libya before this year, yet identified so strongly with their Libyan identity, telling me about their family history and naming specific instances that impacted their lives and their relationship with Libya. It will be interesting to see how Libya will handle the return of Libyans from around the world, though I am hesitant to use that word, because some Libyans living abroad for reasons and circumstances as multi-colored as their identity, will tell you they never really left. As stressed to me and other young Libyan participants during "Trip to My Homeland," a program aimed at connected Libyans living abroad with their roots, a Libyan is a Libyan, regardless of where he lays his head at night.

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