AN ALGERIAN IN AMERICA
Written by Sabrina Amrane
“It’s next to Morocco” echoes off the walls and vibrates through the borders of this nation to which Algeria is unfamiliar, or more honestly described, irrelevant. Even then, I’m not sure that they know where Morocco is either, but it’s my best bet. The more infamous reaction is the squinting of the eyes, tilting of the head, and expected questioning of how one could be African and lack the stereotyped aesthetic. It would be soon for the furrowed eyebrows and parted lips to learn this continent does not exist to breed homogeneity.
The inquiries directed towards an Algerian-American are mindlessly naive, yet when taken a moment to absorb are crucial, political, and even philosophical questions. Like a child who asks why the sky is blue, the curiosity to know why our parents sometimes speak French and why Middle Easterners cannot understand us when we speak “Arabic” forces us to realize that even we lack the answers until taken upon ourselves to understand. And even if such information was accessible, explaining to a child that the sky is blue because of scattering molecules is just as incomprehensible as explaining colonialism.
It would almost feel more fitting to take on the common misconception that I am Hispanic to strangers than to undergo the nuisance that is the complexity of postcolonial identity. To be Algerian is to be African but exclusively referred to as North African, to be part of the Middle-East-North-Africa but be pseudo-Arab at best. To be Algerian is to be drowning in the ambiguous Sahara as if it was quick sand, and suffocating in the Mediterranean because not too long ago was this country an extension of another across seas.
The Western North African diaspora only adds to the muddled mirror reflection; it produces dinner-table arguments between a child and their parents, of whom speak not a different language in grammar and vocabulary but a different metaphysical language attached to culture that props the puppeteer of perspective. To be Algerian-American is to endure an indefinite assimilation. I feel most Algerian in America, and most American in Algeria. It is as if each leg is planted in two different countries while my arms are stretching towards relatability only to find my fingertips touching nothing.
In America being Algerian meant explaining the henna on the palm of my hands in the 1st grade was not stained dirt. In Algeria being American meant searching for WiFi like it would quench my thirst better than water when breaking fast during Ramadan. What seems to feel alike in both worlds is that when in need to be seen as part of the bourgeoisie, because romanticization can certainly ameliorate social status, revamping the uninvited French aspect of the mélange was an automatic response. It is also to be reminded that this switch would mean nothing in France, where the Maghrebi diaspora is not comfortably unknown, and more so oppressed for their existence.
Being Algerian-American means being a spectacle. The confused gaze from other Americans as they try to imagine a foreign land they’ve never heard of after being corrected for the common blunder, “you’re from Nigeria?,” has the same wonder in the eyes of Algerians who ask me questions about America as if it is a Utopia.
Being Algerian-American is to belong to a deserted island. The only colors preventing the flags being alike are green and blue, and it is these colors, green grass and blue sky, that do not change with any landscape that has a man-made name. It is equivocal nature the Algerian American belongs to, if any place in totality.