Many an anniversary of the Nakba has passed quietly over the course of my life. Inevitably today, my social media pages will light up with articles, discussions, and photos - which makes me think about how I feel about that day, 65 years ago, to which I still struggle to connect. Like many born outside of Palestine, I've inherited an embittered narrative and memories that have shaped my experiences.
My father turned 66 this year, born a year before the Nakba. His memories and history have been passed down to us in flashes, only enough to ensure that we inherited a sense of loss. While many other Palestinian families instilled a deep, political passion in their children, my parents did not do the same. They did not want us to have the pain or disappointments tied to being an activist. They wanted to create the loving, tight-knit world of which they were robbed. For this reason, I struggled with being Palestinian, Arab, and American. Politics, loyalties, and requirements were assigned to me in a confusing mess that I often times could not understand. I grew angry and numb to a conflict that seemed to be unsolvable - avoiding the world of buttons and boycotts. Our life in North Carolina, with a diaspora of distant relatives and fellow Palestinians, was created with blueprints based on their memories. We were merely recreating a place that they once knew. Regardless of the lack of political emphasis in my home, my identity as a Palestinian, and indeed my loyalty, came before anything else. The fact that I was an American was an inconvenient byproduct of the history handed to me, second to the beloved homeland that I thought I would never live in or visit.
We all bickered about how to show our pride, feeling pressed to speak up in class and assert our invisible histories in classes and maps that did not recognise us. My identity became synonymous with loss: a loss in history, a blank white page forced upon us, cursed to have a question mark hovering over our identities. I wanted people to hear the stories of utterly-destroyed villages, home raids, and arbitrary arrests. Perhaps to make it real to the world, instead of simply the memories of relatives, or the collective memory of a community of people cursed to roam.
I am going to Palestine for the first time in my life this year. My parents never took us - they thought it would be too difficult and perhaps too painful to return. The idea of checkpoints and corrupt security officers could not tempt my travel-weary father. I know they want to be with me during my first visit, to point out to me the places they loved and continue to preserve in their memories, even though they were last there before I was born.
What I want is something I cannot get back through land or legislation. I want the memories owed to me. I want to know the olive groves that continue to grow in my mother's head. I want memories of the home that she grew up in, the village that they left, the relatives that I only know as characters in their stories. I want to put faces to the characters I grew up with, and feel a real connection to a land that I can only tie to my parents' fading memories. They speak of past lives filled with siblings I've never met, and other relatives scattered across the globe.
Today is important. Not only because there are flagrant human rights abuses, but also because those of us that wander have lost and will continue to lose. Those of us that are first generation might have experienced visits or the scattered memories of our parents, but that loss, that inability to return, is one that will continue to be passed through generations.
Sara Yasin is a Palestinian-American blogger and writer. She will be visiting the homeland of her parents for the first time with Palfest, an annual literary festival that tours around Palestine.