I was sitting at the bottom of the stairs behind the school library, eating my lunch on thedusty concrete with the other surface-level friends that I had been sitting with during those first few weeks of school. I was uncomfortable, self-conscious, and in a complete quarry of what I was going to contribute to the conversation that I was literally and figuratively sitting on the sidelines, desperately trying to butt in during a lull in the conversation. My chance arrived sooner than expected, when the small group of girls was discussing Eid, a religious Islamic holiday celebrated in the first few weeks of the academic year, marked with elaborate parties, new outfits, and of course, lots of food. “Yes!!” I thought to myself. It was something that I could relate to, a welcome break from the talk of Bahraini boys and celebrities that I had never heard of. Among the talk of what the girls’ families were going to do over the holiday, I quickly added “Oh, me too! My family spends hours cooking and then we all usually go to my grandmother's house.” One of the girls looked over at me with an amused smile, then turned away from me and looked back at her friends. “Wait,” she asked the group “the chicken nuggetknows what Eid is?” At that moment, I flashed an awkward smile, unsure of whether to laugh with the group or resign back to my hunched position at the bottom of the staircase. Chicken nuggets. A beloved and delicious treat that both children, adults, and all in between crave and enjoy. Sporting a crispy exterior, and a warm, delicate interior, chicken nuggets are referred to as bites of heaven, while also being the bane of a dietician’s existence. This is the exact lens from which I viewed chicken nuggets throughout my life. However, my outlook on them quickly shifted in 10th grade, the year that I moved from Houston, Texas to Saudi Arabia and began attending school in Bahrain. My move across the world was littered with various challenges, however, this was the most unexpected one. I quickly learned that a “chicken nugget” was not only the unhealthy treat that I had always enjoyed as a child. Instead, a chicken nugget is a label that many living in Arab countries pin onto people like me. People who have lived abroad, but whose ancestral roots originate from Arab countries. A chicken nugget is a visual representation of someone like me. Someone who resembles an Arab, Middle Eastern person from the outside, but who on the inside is “white”, whether they have lived on the Western side of the world, or are just deeply influenced by Western culture. As I went navigated that year, I went through many phases of completely rejecting mylabel of a “chicken nugget,” and beginning to accept it, and embrace it. I would either come into the room announcing “your favorite chicken nugget is here!” Or recoil every time I heard the phrase. I quickly discovered that it was not the phrase that bothered me or the fact that it was what I was known as at my new school. The part that I detested was that I did not choose it for myself. It was forced upon me, much like the labels pinned on me as a Muslim living in America. I’d had enough of that. I wanted to be able to tell my own story. The story of a girl who has lived all over the world and navigated her way through different environments and situations, becoming more culturally aware as a result of it. I want to be able to tell my own story and the story of other “chicken nuggets” all over the world. Those of us that have been repressed by society, and told to resign to the label we have been assigned. My passion to share the stories of the marginalized and underrepresented communities around the world does not only stem from interest, but from experience. In order to reclaim my identity, I began writing a weekly current events column for my school’s newsletter, spending hours every week searching for stories, ones that aren’t being covered by major news sources, pursuing my goal of amplifying the voices of underrepresented communities from all around the world. I refuse to let others judgmental perception of my identity affect the way I view myself and the greater global community. We are all chicken nuggets, in one way or another. We never fit in just right in one specific place, we’re all different in our own way, and it’s time we accept that and accept ourselves. I now address you, chicken nugget. Instead of being my label, I’ve turned you into my strength.
Updated: Aug 4, 2019