“What Is This Palestine, Anyway?”: Two Second-Generation Palestinian American Women Negotiate Roots and Routes
Palestinian diaspora
Palestinian women
Palestinian literature
third space
postcolonial studies

This article examines the process of identity formation as it pertains to two Palestinian American women in the United States, specifically in New York City. It considers the answer to a characteristically conversational question in the West: “What is this Palestine, anyway?” through a reading of Najla Said’s and Suheir Hammad’s memoirs, Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family (New York: Riverhead Books, 2013) and Drops of This Story (New York: Writers & Readers, 1996), respectively. While the memoirs are set in socioeconomically different parts of New York City, both narrators chronicle their complicated negotiations around issues of belonging, integration, self-worth, and body shame as second-generation Palestinian women in the United States. The paper argues for the necessity to narrate such experiences, or else risk being outwritten by various Others. Given the reality of “Palestine” geographically and politically, the literary space can be powerful in locating and registering an imagined postcolonial Palestinian experience today. It can coherently articulate a broken Self, rehabilitate body politics, retrace violently digressive journeys, find meaning in a confounding kind of nationalism, and resist dominant and hostile ideologies. Indeed, the act of narration could not only heal the fraught relations between the Palestinian Self and various Others, but can allow for the envisioning of a postcolonial space from within.

Author biography: 

Mai Serhan is a writer, editor, and translator. Her forthcoming memoir, Return Is a Thing of Amber, won the Narratively Spring Memoir Prize 2022. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Oxford. For more about her work, visit www.maiserhan.com.