As important as identity is, I have never seen people struggle with it more than North Africans, and more specifically, Algerians! Personally, I sometimes get very mad that I stop caring about who I am and where I belong. But, this doesn’t last long because identity is not just a country, a religion, a tribe, or a nation we belong to – it is our daily life.
First, Algerians are Africans. Although, there are different traditions that we observe, we are, first and foremost, a country situated in North Africa and we are proud of everything we are called on behalf of this name ‘African.’ But, sometimes, Algerians aren’t believed to be Africans due to our features as we don’t have a dark complexion. When I went to the USA for my exchange program, I didn’t realize how little some people knew of cultures and countries other than those in Europe. I received many questions and comments about both Algeria and Africa. I remember the first comment I received when I told one of my American friends that Algeria is a country in North Africa was ‘why aren’t you black?’ I thought he was joking at the first but the expression on his face made me realize that he was serious about his question and that I had to teach him a lot about Algeria and North Africa.
Second, Algeria is called an Arab-Muslim country. The three pillars of our identity, as the law sets it, are Arabism, Islam, and Amazigh. Arabism means that we are of Arab origins. Islam means that Algerians have only one religion, Islam. Amazigh means that we should preserve our Berber language and traditions. These pillars can create an identity paradox, specifically whether to have Arab or Berber origins. However, I believe we are more than these two here in Algeria. As for Islam being our own religion, through the years, Algeria has been home to all religions and ethnicities: we had Muslim Berbers, Christian Berbers, Jewish Berbers and others. They all lived in peace and practiced their religion, which was considered a personal freedom. The idea I am trying to spread is no matter what religion you choose, don’t forget your origins and where you come from. We only realize where we are going by connecting the dots from the past, but sometimes some of our dots have been erased or forgotten. Still, I believe we can draw connections again in order to really think about who we are.
No matter how little the world may know of the Algerian identity, I felt so proud among an international audience to be part of an amazing continent and culture that has survived ages of slavery, colonization, and hatred, and is still making great people who mostly know the world geography and history! I don’t have anything against any country in the world, but some people from very developed countries stay so focused on their own country that they forget there is another world out there waiting to be discovered. When I was a student at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, the school hosted its annual International Night Festival. We had 30 acts and a fashion show with more than 60 countries from around the world! The atmosphere was full of love and joy, and although in the different costumes and colors, we felt as one nation and one world.
Written by Meriem Bouraoui, 2017-18 Global UGRAD student from Algeria at Saginaw Valley State University