My Arabic

April 9, 20174 min read

My relationship with my alleged mother tongue Arabic has been everything from challenging and isolating to welcoming and loving, especially having English feel like home to me when in fact, sometimes it feels like it’s not mine to claim. So, after listening to Melissa’s poem, I wrote this in a frenzy at 3 am. 


If you ask me if I’m fluent in Arabic
there will be a pause
a medley of “ums” and “wells”
a dance around the amalgamation
of shame and pride
I will tell you my Arabic is the body I grew within
the pillars of a home built in my name
my Arabic is my mother on her knees
whispering a prayer
forehead to the ground; grounded
her lips to my forehead; safe
it is the disappearing act
of my father’s hard work
just out of reach
the un-regrettable privilege of getting by

My Arabic is walking into a room and forgetting why you were there in the first place
the paradox of blank mind, messy mind
the incoming information awaiting translation
the fragmented grammar and the splintered “likes”

I often feel like i have nothing but a step-mother tongue

My Arabic is an 8th grade classroom
I am reading to a class my hand hesitantly rises in
I am told my accent is funny
I learn to smile
my Arabic is my artwork on display at a gallery being covered by the local news
I beg my mother on the phone
heart pestle to lungs mortar
I beg her to tell the reporter my Arabic is not that great
yet, his first words
and my eyes fixate on the studio light scrutinizing my syntax
my voice a tremor,
my brain agonizing over every stifling syllable
I don’t really like the look of that canvas anymore

If you ask me if I’m fluent in Arabic
I will ask you, does my LinkedIn “limited working proficiency” count
while my English is set to “Native”

Native (noun)
a person born in a specified place or associated with a place by birth, whether subsequently resident there or not; no

Native (adjective)
associated with the place or circumstances of a person’s birth; no

I speak the tongue of nations for which I have to fill paperwork to be granted access
I speak a tongue that feels like the only one to my name
despite my name not residing in its letters
my Arabic is the chest of intricacy and complexity that I’ve misplaced the key to
it is the automatic identity I don’t possess
leaving me to create something of myself for myself
leaving me in gray areas

my Arabic

my Arabic is getting acquainted with the feeling of smallness
my Arabic is knowing there will always be a disconnect unless I decide to fill it
there will always be a bridge unless I decide to walk it, not looking down at the waves ready to swallow me whole
my Arabic is my lesson in belonging, and lack thereof
and yet
and always

my Arabic is just that. Mine still.

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Hiba Argane

Caffeine junkie, pop-culture enthusiast and the real slim shady.