By Amani Abusoboh
Freedom is one of the most humane and meaningful values. Freedom is not a confined concept, so it is difficult to express precisely what it is, and perhaps that is what makes it different from other words. Many of my friends in the US and Palestine ask me how I see my life in the US, how it is different from my life in Palestine, and my answer is always, “I am free, I feel safe.”
I remember in the first few months when I came to the US, when I went from one place to another, I carried my passport in my bag. I carried my personal identity in my handbag all the time. In Palestine, to carry your identity is essential to be able to pass Israeli checkpoints; without identification, you will be arrested or Israeli soldiers will make you stay for long hours at the checkpoint. Several months passed before I grasped that I am in a new country, with no military checkpoints and no soldiers in the streets forcing me to get off a bus or leave me for long hours standing under the sun or in the rain.
When I talk about my freedom here in the US, I say, “I breathe.” The air here has different flavor, not only because there are no military checkpoints, but also because there is freedom from a lot of concerns that in the past formed the features of my personality.
Many concepts caused a state of conflict within myself, most importantly my right and my freedom over my own body, what I wear, how I present myself to my community. I fully believe that the relationship between a person and God is a very special relationship, and the way people dress does not reflect the reality of who they really are. The most important thing is the way you deal with yourself and with others.
I wore a headscarf, a “Hijab” since I was 14 years old, though it was not my decision to do so. I did not have the opportunity to experience being a woman without a headscarf; I never had the right to wear what I saw fit. The idea of taking off my headscarf was in my mind before I came to the US, but I was not brave enough to take this step in Palestine because it would have been as a challenge to the society I belonged to there.
After nine months of personal conflict in the US, I was able to finally take the cover off my head. I did not know that the intensity of my conflict would be so powerful; a culture of fear had taken root in myself to a large degree. What I discovered during my life here in the US is that when one grows up in a culture of fear, that fear gives the community the undue control over him or her, and it can be difficult to enjoy any freedom, even if where there are broad freedoms and a democratic government. I took off my Hijab; I extra demanded my right over my body. I experienced the feeling of being a woman without a headscarf for the first time in my life.
I remember the day when I took the cover off my head: it was on Tuesday, the twenty-fourth of September 2013. When I walked on the street, how the air hit my hair for the first time. I cried. I was crying and laughing at the same time, saying to myself, “I am alive.” I walked on the street around the UT campus. The weather was windy. I went for a walk to experience how it would be like to walk without a headscarf for the first time in my life. I felt that day I was the only one who walking on the street. It was a special day for me.
It is a great feeling when a human has right to self-determination, to live the way that makes him or her happy and satisfied, as long as this way does not harm himself or herself or harm others. I live in a country that gives me the opportunity to experience new cultures and habits, gives me the opportunity to get to know others, gaining valued meanings I add to my personal life. I’m in my new life the master of myself; my decision first and foremost determines all matters related to my life. I’m not a follower anyone. I follow my ambition, my dreams, and my right to experiment, free from any power that tells me what is allowed and what is forbidden. I breathe. I respect my mind and my right to experience. I am alive.
Amani Abusoboh was born and raised in Palestine. She holds a BA in Psychology and Education and an MA in community psychology, both from Bir Zeit University in Palestine. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Organization
Development at St. Edward’s University. After her studies, she hopes to apply her skills in developing and improving mental health systems in Palestine.
Translated from the Arabic by the author.
Images by Alejandra García, drawn from her series Clothed, Bound, Cut & Exposed. She is a recent graduate of St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and has two bachelors, one in Photocommunications and another in Latin American Studies. Alejandra is originally from Mexico City and has lived in El Paso, Texas before moving to Austin. Her relationship with her home country, the border of Mexico and the U.S., her studies in political science, and her interest in film have influenced her work. Although some of her photography includes a political and social context she emphasizes the importance of an image standing on its aesthetics before being conceptually addressed.