Sami Hotait, a 16-year-old high-school student from Malmö, is tired of being asked where he’s ‘really’ from. Here he tells The Local Voices why he won’t let his inquisitors define him.
Often when I meet new people I get asked a surprising question: ‘Where are you from?’ I answer: ‘I’m from Sweden, I’m a Swede’.
Some people don’t stop there and keep prying. ‘But that can’t be true! You don’t look so Swedish, where are you originally from?’
It’s mostly adults who ask. I used to answer them by saying that my father came from Lebanon and my mother is a Swede.
But I feel like this answer confuses my identity: In Sweden I’m the Lebanese guy, and in Lebanon I’m the Swede.
So I’ve stopped answering, because it’s just silly. Nowadays if people ask I just tell them, ‘I am an inhabitant of this world. I am a human being on this planet’.
I really don’t feel any need to talk about this with strangers, but the questions hurt and bother me. At school I’m one of the best students and I have some bright mates I can talk to about the nationality issue, but not everyone is so thoughtful.
I’ve talked to my mother about this question people ask, and how it makes me feel like they’re telling me I’m not one of them, that I’m not a Swede. But my mother has always told me: ‘It’s you who decides who you are and where you belong - not other people.’
And she’s right. It’s not my dad’s Lebanese nationality that defines me. I’m not a half-Swede, or a second-class Swede. I’ve lived all 16 years of my life here. I define my relationship to Sweden, not the people who ask me this question.
This is my homeland. I never feel as free as when I’m in Sweden. I am me when I’m here. It’s a heaven for human rights. It’s the sanctuary that shelters refugees, and other humans who are in need. I am proud to be Swedish.
In my neighbourhood nobody asks where I come from because we all know each other. It’s a neighbourhood that’s mostly populated by second-generation immigrants. It has its troubles, including drugs and some crime. But I love it here because it’s where I was born, grew up, and learned my language. It’s my haven, the place where I feel love and warmth.
I have a hope that in the future we can all live together, without slurring or ridiculing each other.
This hope lies in me, and in the younger generations. I’m studying behavioural science, and was lucky to be raised in a multicultural environment. I accept and respect all people regardless of their backgrounds. Why should my or your background be worth more than any other?
The more we learn from each other, the more we can accept and love each other, and vanquish our prejudices.
I want to become a talk show host in the US, to raise awareness among people. I’ll call it ‘The Sami Hotait show’. Yes! I want to try make the world a better place. All we see around us in reality and on the news is negativity and more negativity. I want to spread the positive, to spread hope.
My role models are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. They inspire me because they tried to raise awareness and make a change, and that’s what I want to do.
I want to learn from them and add my own contribution to theirs. This will help me convey meaningful and inspirational messages to people – to change them.
There have to be solutions to our never-ending miseries after all. Right?
Did you like this story?