We all watched with immense pride the historic moment that Rami Malek accepted his award for Best Actor on the renowned Oscars stage. What stood out most for me was his candid acceptance speech, in which he explained his Egyptian heritage and subsequent struggle with his identity growing up. Born in the US to Egyptian parents, he grew up speaking Arabic at home, and until he was 18 years old, wouldn’t correct anyone around him who mispronounced his name. He tried to ‘fit in’ and did not feel proud of his Egyptian heritage until he became an adult and felt able to reconcile with it, and openly express it.
He has presented a beautiful story of internal struggle, reconciliation and finally, the triumph of talent, hard work and dedication that has led him to the achievement of a lifetime. His struggle with his identity in childhood is one that seems all too familiar for those of us with mixed or foreign heritage, since it is not easy to feel like the outsider, and want to fit in with your friends all the time. It is only after one passes through this stage, that one can truly feel at peace and ready to move on and take our place in the world.
It was endearing to hear him speak to the press in Arabic (see video below), greeting them with ‘ahlan wa sahlan’ (hello and welcome) and ‘menawareen’, a typical Egyptian greeting meaning you are lighting up the space around us. Clearly he is proud of his heritage and his parents did a wonderful job of instilling a love for the Arabic language in him.
Perhaps if he as a child had met others like him, born in the US and speaking Arabic at home, he would have struggled less with his identity and learned earlier how to accept and reconcile the different aspects of his identity.
So it is with great pride that we at Kalamna join Arabic-speaking children on their journey of self-discovery, identity and reconciliation, aiming to help foster in them a love for the Arabic language and heritage, showing them the best it has to offer, side-by-side and in harmony with the other facets of their identity. With a focus on spoken Arabic, we show that Arabic is a living, breathing language that is relevant to all areas of life, with a rich cultural and social legacy, ready for them to tap into and explore.