1727) What It Means To Be Turkish In America

When I tell people I’m a Turk, the first thing they ask me is . . . where in Turkey I’m from. It’s then that I have to explain that I was not born in Turkey. My parents immigrated here separately, met here, and subsequently I was born here. I was born in New York, raised in Utah, and now live in Colorado. To some people, this delegitimizes my claim as a Turk; I can see it in their eyes. When I am visiting Turkey, Turks react the same way. When asked, “nerelisin?” I provide a similar elaborate explanation, which, on many occasions, has ended the conversation then and there.

To me being a Turk is not about where you were born or how you were raised, it is about embodying the essence and nationalistic ideals of a Turk. Oftentimes I find that Turkish people outside of Turkey are more nationalistic than those who actually live there. In a way, it seems that feeling disconnected from our identity brings us that much closer to it. We don’t blend easily with other Americans. We always have that something different, something separate. We realize that this difference is our culture and our background. It is that feeling of identifying as ‘Turk’ that separates us.

I believe my claim on Turkish heritage is whole and undeniable. Turkish was my first language; I still speak it with my family and Turkish friends, albeit with an American accent. I spend time in Turkey every summer, and upon returning I always miss it. As a student, I am the leader of a Turkish Student Association at my university. I use this position to teach others about Turkish culture and people. I feel the need to tell others about my rich past. I find that this is often in stark contrast to Turks who have come here from Turkey just to study. They don’t have that same need to reach out to others. They are much more content finding each other and maintaining social contact until they can return to Turkey.

I, on the other hand, don’t have that same luxury. America is my country, and I do not have the option of returning to Turkey and having that same feeling of homecoming as some Turks may. When I am there, I feel as if something is missing. At the same time, when I am in America I feel disconnected, less than whole. I am incomplete in either place, so I must therefore create a new identity that is neither Turkish nor American, but both.

Much of my need to teach others about Turkish culture has to do with my desire to be accepted in this country. I strive to get people to understand me. If they can understand me and where I come from, then maybe they can also accept me for who I am. I strive to do the same in Turkey. Sometimes I feel ashamed when my vocabulary is not enough to get across my meaning to other Turks or I wonder why it is that they are always striving to look and dress more Western, but find my American clothes to be so strange to them.
But really, I am a different breed. I am not completely a Turk, or fully am I an American. I am perpetually separate, but that does not mean I am not equal. When I meet other Turkish Americans, one thing I realize we have in common is our desire to discover our roots. We love being of Turkish descent, it is a defining characteristic of our lives. We seek knowledge of our history, and enjoy learning and practicing Turkish culture. This has always been important to us, and always should be.

Turkish Americans, take pride in your identity. You are the teachers of Turkish heritage in America. You are the bridge between continents. Without you, America would not have the rich diversity it has. Without you, Turkey would not have a voice across the Atlantic. Turkish Americans, you are not just Turks. You are something better. You are two nations in one. You have the pride of Turkey in the heart of America. Wear this identity with pride.

Yasemin Gulsum Acar


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