Committee for Children Blog

Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month with Mariam Badr

This year, we’re celebrating National Arab American Heritage Month with a Q&A with Mariam Badr, an Arab American student, activist, and media coordinator. We asked Mariam about her experiences growing up as part of the Arab American community, how she thinks educators can best support Arab American students, her hopes for children in her community, and more.

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Mariam Badr. I’m 19 years old. I was born in North Carolina, but I’ve been living in Seattle for almost 16 years now. Both of my parents are from Egypt so I’m a first-generation Muslim Egyptian American. I’m in my first year of undergrad at UW Bothell studying business with a marketing focus. I also work as a media coordinator at CAIR Washington, a Seattle-based nonprofit advocacy and civil rights organization that serves the Muslim community across Washington State.

I’m really close to my Arab culture and heritage. My parents raised me to speak Arabic at home and we have a lot of Arab friends. It’s important to me to stick to the cultural values I was taught by my parents growing up.

What do you love most about the Arab American community?

What I love most about the broader Arab community is our sense of warmth and hospitality. It’s something I’ve grown to appreciate as I make more friends outside of my bubble. When you go over to someone’s house and they go out of their way to make you feel comfortable, when they present you with tea, when they have you over for a meal, when they go the extra mile to make you feel at home and welcome—that’s special and one of my favorite things about the Arab community.

What was it like for you growing up as an Arab American child in your neighborhood?

Growing up, we moved a couple times within Washington State, but I’m privileged to say that in one of the neighborhoods we lived in, we had so many Muslim and Egyptian friends in the area. Some of them were even down our street, just a two-minute drive away, so I felt a strong sense of community. The friendships we had with our neighbors there are still so strong even after moving away from that neighborhood. Even today, we know we can still rely on those neighbors. They really feel like family. That was a positive, formative experience for me growing up, and I know that most Arab American children don’t have similar experiences to that. I feel privileged to have been able to live in such a close-knit Arab community. I can imagine how if you didn’t have that sense of support from your community as a child, you might feel alienated or isolated.

Do you think your childhood experiences are similar or different to what Arab American children experience now?

Most Arab Americans I’ve met didn’t grow up with Arab neighbors right down their street. As new generations come about, I feel like we’re losing a little bit of that sense of our culture; but at the same time, I think a lot of people do a good job of taking their kids to Arabic classes at a young age and helping them establish friends with people who share their background so they are still exposed to their roots and build a foundation of cultural awareness.

I think something that’s helped me keep strong ties with my culture is having close friends from a similar background. Those are people I can always relate to and understand on a different level. It’s all about having a good balance of friends who share your heritage and friends who come from different backgrounds, so you have those shared perspectives and experiences as well as different mindsets and worldviews. It’s important to step out of your comfort zone sometimes, and it’s equally important to have those friends you can fall back on who get you and can support you.

What is your dream for the future of Arab American children?

The first thing that comes to mind is the moment you learn about 9/11 in school. As an Arab American child, you can feel really put on the spot when your classmates turn to look at you during that lesson. I’ve had a lot of teachers that have shown me kindness in those moments, but even with their support, a lot of the time I did feel like the spotlight was on me. I would love to see a future where Arab kids didn’t have that kind of experience and they feel more included and connected at school. I think people underestimate how important it is to feel like you belong in your school and are welcomed by your classmates and teachers.

How would you like to see K–12 educators support and celebrate the Arab American community? What would be most meaningful to you?

Something very basic and simple, like putting in the extra effort to pronounce my name, is something that goes a long way with me. My name is a big part of my identity, and the fact that I just deal with it being mispronounced or “simplify” it for the comfort of others feels like I’m depreciating a key part of who I am. I know a lot of other Arabs who have “difficult” or non-traditional, non-Americanized names and can relate to this. When someone takes the time to learn my name and make sure they’re pronouncing it correctly, it makes me feel much more respected and appreciated.

Something I would also love to see implemented is recognizing the holidays celebrated by different backgrounds and cultures. For example, Eid—which is our celebration after Ramadan—is usually on a weekday, so I always have to take the day off from school and then explain why I was unable to attend class due to religious accommodation. Having to make up classes and explain this every year can feel exhausting. I’d love to see educators take a more proactive approach to this, and I’m confident that support would be meaningful to many of their Arab students.