Tuesday, July 14, 2009

but you need to ask why

IJoNC, MY fictitious organization with a membership of one, would best describe my most formative experience. Islamic Jews of North Carolina. I now graciously accept my duties as Empress of the IJoNC community. At last, far from Fayetteville, where ideally(if not essentially) one is black (as they say) if not white, and also Christian. Even with no symbol or letter bearing shirts, we are a distinguished people. The undeniable markings of a true IJoNC member are a large-ish nose, slumped shoulders, cowlicks that misbehave in the humidity, fear of eye contact, and a patent look of uncertainty.

Toiling to endure life as Magda Ghoneim,a brown, absurdly tall and thin, flat chested child of Arab Jew descent in Fayetteville, North Carolina was cruel, to say the least. I am outing myself as Magda for those who were not witness to my Uber Anglo teachers botching my name year after year. I still cringe as I recall awaiting roll call, hoping to invisibly eek out, "here", before it could be butchered/broadcast/mocked.

Claiming MAGDA, 41 years and 2 legal name changes later, is emancipation of sorts. Similar to the "blacks" claiming the N-word. It wounded me each time it was spoken, even when pronounced correctly. To my good fortune, I credit the fact that I was called Maggie from an early age. That is, outside of class attendance and antagonizing peers or family.

I was born Magda Ghoneim to Nabil with an Arabic accent and Judith, a New York Jew. Having Jilan as my sibling did not make survival in Fayetteville as a Ghoneim any less scary. Bible Belt and Home to the Jennifers, Michelles, Kims, the Smiths,the Jones,the Thompsons. Enter Magda Ghoneim; brown and heathen, raised by parents who preferred fasting and eating lamb for Ramadan to Christmas Stockings or Easter Baskets. Magda with unfortunate hair and clothing and a pervasive uneasiness both in and away from "home".

My term as the sole member of IJoNC shaped who I am: what I have achieved and been through, as well as all that I have and look forward to. Perhaps you too, would like to become an honorary IJoNC member or sponsor. ..or maybe you already are and just didn't know it.


  1. MAGDA! I can relate to the name botching, among other things. Ugh! Second grade, Mrs. Roark felt the need to change the latinate ending to my name. Called me Gabrielle instead of Gabriela. She prefered Gaby with an "i", instead of a "y". She had the power to change my name, and I did not have the voice to say otherwise. I continue to spell my name the Roark way, but now, after reading your blog, I wonder if I'm okay with that??? Hmm??? Thanks.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    You know, it's interesting. I grew up in a very "Christian" area and although my "religious affiliation" matched those in the community, I was outcasted because of my parents' income. And then because I was smart. And later because of the decisions I made based on how I reacted to the above. The list goes on and I'm telling you, it took me years to separate the people from the faith they claimed to represent. And years still to see the truth and heal.

    I hope you consider writing more about your childhood in NC. While the situations are certainly unique to you, the emotional struggles attached would ring true for many, many people.


Your thoughts are welcome here. As long as they are kind. Or maybe just not unkind.