* reading time is 2 + a laugh.
I used to work at 7-11 in Chicago, a customer walked in and said: “Do you speak English?” My reply was: “No sir, English doesn’t speak me!” Another time when I worked for Accenture, I arrived at a new project to discover consultants had been wagering on my background. One of the guys had a bet on me being a mix of Greek and Japanese.
In Iraq, people think I am Lebanese. During the nightclub life in Chicago, I passed my self as an Italian-Sicilian with a nickname “Nino”. I blend very easy in Italy, Spain, and Greece. I tell people, my look comes with geographical advantage. What can I say…I am genetically gifted.
Interestingly, I saw this query when I decided to write this blog, WordPress informed that one of the search terms about me in Google is: “What nationality is Youkhana?”
Thinking deep about the question and its implication by the Googler, I am not sure what people are looking for … Thoughts come to my head: Is it a simple question that I should take at face value? What are they looking for? Are they trying to find out my nationality then attach a ready-made default stereotype like an Arab-American? Or maybe not, maybe I am just reading too much into it.
Here let me help with the basic:
I am an Assryain-American-Christian-Iraqi (AACI)
For my first name Ninos check my previous blog (Origin of the name Ninos)
My last name, Youkhana, is John in Aramaic. (Similar the Hebrew language)
But…Where do I go from here? It just gets more and more complicated.
No matter how much they are explained, there are things in life that fall short of our understanding. For example, I could never understand the standup comedian’s feeling at the stage. And I could never understand the feeling of being African American.
So, if a person has not lived as an Assyrian Christian under Saddam’s regime in Iraq, it would be very difficult to understand. Let me assure the reader or the googler that I don’t fit in any stereotypes. And I hope to shed a bit of light with the following.
I mentioned a few statements about me in a previous blog. I said my immigrant personality has been injected with so many hyphenated complex parts like Assyrian-American-Christian-Iraq (AACI) complicated further by wars, religious beliefs, and a Christian minority culture living in polar opposite to an Islamic society of Iraq.
Each part of this hyphenated complexity needs its own blog (or books), But I will try to explain it in simple words.
When I am talking about my personality, I don’t mean it in terms of the Freudian ego, the Eckhart Tolle super-ego, or Sam Harris’ non-existing-illusion of self. Nor, am I talking about a type A or type B from a personality test. I mean it in more or less a woven mix of hyphenated combinations. (Understand now?)
I am Assyrian in heart. I was born Assyrian – a remnant member of one of the earliest civilizations known to mankind. My people have survived 3,000 years of the rising and falling of kingdoms and empires. Regional wars not only caught Assyrian Christians in middle but also purposely aimed to annihilate them.
As if my hyphenated personality needs more complexity, I am a citizen (yet to be official) of a non-existent nation of Assyria. It is a Nation without borders. They are a minority that spread across Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. Assyrian immigrants have flooded the four corners of the world.
I am an American citizen. To identify myself as being a citizen extends much further than the Naturalization Certificate. My love, loyalty, and allegiance to the United State of America goes beyond any level of security clearance I hold. I will be indebted for the rest of my life for what America gave me. There is no other nation ON this planet offers its immigrant citizens what America offers theirs. Not even a Muslim Arab who emigrates to another Muslim Arab Nation, like an Iraqi to Saudi Arabia, or an Egyptian to Kuwait is treated like America treats its immigrants from any nation. (Period)
I am Christian in beliefs and values. I was raised in an Evangelical church.
I am Iraqi by place of birth. I was born in Iraq – an Islamic society that has completely different religion, values, and culture than Assyrians. Christians were/are being triangulated between Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish Muslims. I was raised in an Islamic society that forced upon us its Islamic practices – Christians must adhere to Islamic fasting practices during the month of Ramadan, such as prohibition of drinking water in public.
To put the above elements in what I could call a calculus of personality equation:
Take the above statements and multiply by: Christian minority living in an Islamic society.
Divide the total by: a nation without borders (Assyria).
Multiply by cultural differences.
The equation will be:
(((Assyrian + American + Christian + Iraqi) * Christian minority living in an Islamic country)/ Assyria) * Cultural differences = Cluster Fuck
Since my awareness of America, I was in love with it. I considered myself born in the wrong place. The majority of Islamic society blames Christians for being Western sympathizers. As a Christian, I was accused of siding with the Americans during the 1991 war against Iraq, and silently, even though America was officially an enemy of Iraq, I was in fact an American supporter. However, when I left Iraq feeling like an American; I found myself entering America and being treated as an Iraqi.
Being raised in Iraq and living the other half of my life in America brought with it a new set of cultural challenges.
I am perfectly ok, but I am in a constant puzzling state of fascination. I am always going to be an Assyrian Christian with American love embedded in my heart.
P.S. If you have more time, I invite you to read: “Three Adjectives that Define Me“
* Any comments? write below. I love to read them.
If there’s one place that embraces multiculturalism it’s the United States. Here, we can give ourselves tens of adjective that define us without feeling threatened.
Great blog. I enjoyed reading your topic, and I like your writing style because you keep your readers engaged in the story. Keep up the good work 😊.
Thank you Susan!
Great article, a nice breakdown of a quick 411.
Thanks Nahren 🙂
Great article Ninos. Being born and raised in the US (in a Non-Assyrian Community), I always identified myself as an Assyrian-American. The fun part growing up around Non-Assyrians was constantly explaining what an Assyrian (is, was and will be) which over my life-time, everyone that ever engaged with me in the discussion about Assyrians always found it to be a fascinating insight into our people and history.
Yep…you right Paul 🙂
You know being a Assyrian girl born in Iraq and raised in New Zealand, I feel exactly the same as you do. I can relate to this article in many ways. It almost felt like I wrote this article as it was speaking the words in my mind. There are a lot of complexities when I get asked to define who I am, that is because I can never say it in 2 or 3 words. I have to always explain to people who I am and where I come from and it almost feels like I am lecturing people sometimes, that’s because people don’t have a clue. All these years of wars and torture that the Assyrians had to live through resulted in Assyrians being almost unidentifiable. I respect you a lot for writing this blog. Personally, when I had to write a statement about my self on Facebook I found it difficult and for you to actually explain your thoughts it actually very inspiring. God bless you Ninos
Thank you Martina, and I like what you said..”like I am lecturing people sometimes, that’s because people don’t have a clue”
Great job. I think you wrote on behalf of thousands of Assyrians who are in similar situation. Please Keep writing and touch on many other issues that your generation is facing and struggling with. Just one request is to refrain from using foul language on a professional blog.
Thank you for your kind words 🙂
You did a fantastic job describing an Assyrian christian immigrant from middle east. I love your writing style. It keeps the reader engaged 🙂
Thank you Helen!
You finally made me check your web site to see your other blogs! I have to say that you are a very gifted writer and convey your thoughts and feelings in a very genuine way. I think many immigrants (and there are many of them in US) can really related to your experience regardless of the country of their origin. I do hope that you continue writing and maybe one day publish your memoirs!
Thank you very much for your kind words 🙂
good job I enjoyed reading Ninos !!
Thank you Nadia! 🙂
You summed up a lot in a little. Good writing and thoughts my friend.
Thank you Steve
By receiving notification of a new comment on this blog, I ended up reading the blog and my comment that I had made almost a year ago! I still loved reading it as much as I did the first time! Such fascinating way of expressing one’s identity!
Thank you Vida
A great job and very nice written, blessed your hands!!
You highlighted a very important issue of thousands of Assyrian people everywhere around the world.
Be blessed Ninos or ” Nino” now and forever !!!