My birthplace is in Connecticut, but if you were to untangle my roots you’d see the influence of several countries in shaping who I am today. Born to a Dominican mother and an Israeli-Moroccan father, I was raised to respect and appreciate other cultures and to keep an open mind about my heritage.
I always felt different than everyone around me, a point that was driven home my senior year of high school. Our social science teacher instructed us to create a family tree project documenting our families’ history in the United States. As the only child of immigrants in my class, the teacher had to create an original assignment for me.
After-school specials hone in on the cruelty of teenagers who often mock anybody different, or anybody who is not in a certain social group. But what about a classroom that is polite on the surface, not intentionally trying to cause harm yet the end result was still everybody else: the same and me: different. Maybe it comes with the slightly oxymoronic territory of being a Middle Eastern Dominican Jew.
My parents always encouraged me to travel, and because of them I’ve been lucky enough to live abroad. Most recently in China, as an adolescent visiting family in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, spending vibrant childhood summers in Israel… but most memorably in Spain. I spent my junior year of college at the University of Granada in the southern region of Andalusia, home to a wonderfully laid-back, jumbled gypsy culture. Because of the Moorish atmosphere of my surroundings, I was inspired to visit Morocco with some new friends.
I ended up in the desert outside Merzouga, conducted to an oasis by camelback as we watched our shadowy profiles in the sand against the sunset. Our Berber guides were friendly, sharing their fire with us and cooking us traditional meals, singing songs understood by all despite the language barriers. Overhead, a sky brimming with stars in an endless sea also featured shimmering heat lightning and simultaneous rainstorms. It was an unlikely conjunction of elements that was all the more beautiful because of its contrast.
At that moment, I recalled a conversation with my father. He explained to me that my ancestors were Jews living in Spain until they were expelled during the inquisition. They went to live in the deserts of Morocco, and ultimately my grandfather moved to Israel. I realized that I had retraced the path of my ancestors. As a child roaming the Dead Sea and Holy City, as a young woman learning about herself while studying abroad, and as a traveler wandering the alluring sands of Morocco.
I had come full circle. Like that blazing sky above me, I am a study of contrasts. Born before the technological boom, growing up alongside the Internet and computers, a child of several worlds. In that moment, without WiFi access or cell tower reception, I felt truly connected, dialed in to the beating life pulse of the universe. In that moment, I felt insignificant and overawed by our planet and dizzily, wonderfully unsure. In that moment, I inhaled the world and breathed out new roots.