Tasneem Filaih – #IAMIRISH

Michael Collins was under my arm. His face covered the front of the Peter Hart book that I held with a gleeful pride. There she was, this girl was obviously Irish walking around with the book about a fallen Irish hero. Would I be challenged though, would someone on my long bus ride home challenge me? Look at that foreigner who does she think she is? But I’m Irish, I’m also from Cork, like Michael Collins. Maybe I could say my mom is Irish and my Grandad goes to the pub daily, would this horrid stranger who challenged my nationality in my mind validate me? It was constant this need for validation to the point that I did a Master’s degree in Irish History, although I loved Irish History it is hard to distinguish how much my identity had played a part in my decision. Please see me as Irish.

She has to be in the picture my Mhaistir said in a low whisper to my Muinteoir. He stole a glance at me and returned to face her, the look of concern etched in my Muinteoir’s face. It will ruin the child’s self-esteem if she is not included in the communion picture he said. I knew two things for certain. One, I did not want to be included in the communion picture because I would be the only one in a bright green uniform standing out against my class all in white. Two, I would not win in the argument against my Mhaistir having already tried and failed to convince him that I was ‘grand’ standing in the sidelines while my class took their picture with the priest, the head teachers and the specially selected parents. A small seed of pride was rooted in me through, for my Mhaistir’s valiant attempts, buried amongst the terrain of doubt that mingled with shame and sweltering embarrassment. I was the only non Catholic in the Cork based primary School accompanied by the fact that I was the sole representation of the multi-cultural section of my very Irish Gael Scoil. Lonely. That’s what it feels like to be mixed race, lonely. You never properly feel you’re from one culture or the other you’re just an awkward wannabe to both cultural spheres, this opinion is one I accepted for a long time. I smiled and shifted nervously at the photographer as he snapped the picture, with that a sense of inclusion washed over me. I had convinced myself that I would be okay with not being included in the picture but my headmaster had known better, he insisted. ‘The child ruins the picture’ a parent commented once the pictures had been developed, ‘them all in white and herself sticking out like a sore thumb in green’ he continued. My mom sent a copy to my granny in Dublin who hung it up on her living room wall, proudly.

It was embarrassing, I’ll just say my dad is Jordanian, there are less questions that way I thought when I returned from my holiday in Baghdad to start secondary school. Iraq was now in state of war after decades of sanctions. I had felt the brute force of it when I was over there before the war. I just couldn’t face the pity the continual onslaught of questions so when my new vice principal asked where my dad was from my response was automatic, he is Jordanian I scoffed. The lie caught in my throat, pure guilt and shame washed over me, unfortunately it would not be the last time I denied my dual nationality out of shame.

‘Well, we won’t be going to America for the next four years’ Linda wrote, November, 9th 2015 the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United State of America. ‘We’re all white people though so we’ll be grand’, Amanda replied, ‘Taz is fucked though’ Linda retorted. There it was, no point of even denying it, Linda was correct, the world for me, my dual heritage and my religion had gotten a lot more difficult awash now with the political right. I had to ask myself some difficult questions at this point, would I continue on my path of denial, pretend I’m completely Irish, suppress my Arab heritage and continue on pretending that everything that is happening in the world to minorities, refugees, Muslims is all right because it is not happening directly to me. That was my turning point, I would never be in a position in which I would please everybody ‘fit the mould’ without losing out on what was important to me. There will always be that person who will say you don’t belong, will find joy in holding your nationality to ransom out of some kind false nationalistic privilege they have assumed, I refuse to let them. I am Irish, I am Iraqi. I am no less in either or. I am no less Irish than my friends, family, guy on the bus or Irish heroes of the past or am I more Irish than them. I just also have another nationality to proud of, another heritage from the cradle of civilization to identify with which enriches me and my Irishness further.

By,

Tasneem Filaih

My culture, heritage and religion are reflected in a lot of my written work which I share on my Instagram account @tasneemwrite. Please follow me on my journey if interested.

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