What does it mean to be a Muslim American for the new generation?

What does it mean to be a Muslim American for the new generation?
Despite growing far-right rhetoric, social media provides an opportunity today for Muslim American youth to navigate the murky waters of identity, writes Oumaya Al Baker
6 min read
11 Dec, 2017
Yousef started under his alias by producing comedic videos [Getty]
Some elements of response can be found in the form of new media content brought by the thriving environment of social media. One young Muslim American of Palestinian origin named Yousef Erakat, also known by his nickname Fousey, has a youtube channel watched by millions. On his channel, Fouseytube, he publishes various types of videos. 

Yousef started under his alias by producing comedic videos such as sketches on his Palestinian-American family.

Watching these videos, we begin to understand what it is like to be a young Muslim American.

Looking through the eyes of Yousef, we are invited into his house. Yousef plays the part of all his family members in a comical scenario of a family trip to the restaurant. 

The video begins with a statement that highlights the connection Yousef has to his roots. Recorded with the voice of his mother, the video starts by saying that the footage was recorded in "a real arab household". Viewer discretion is advised.

Yousef seems very conscious of the structural elements of a family. From the start, he depicts a dinner scene as a scene where the element of unity is present and lacking paradoxically as the family is gathered to eat in silence. 

The structure of order which is symbolically represented by the guest salon nobody must use except guests gives an idea of the arab ethnological roots of hospitality, structuring invitation as a ceremony with a distinct space in the living area to be provided to receive guests.

The two pillars of order in this familial structure are the parents, father and mother, who represent the mononuclear family’s foundation in traditional arab families, and embody values such as traditionalism and cultural representation.

The father is the authority figure, the moral compass in the family unit, keeping them safe from 'bad influences'. 

The mother is the person in charge of the material needs of the family when it comes to managing the household. She holds traditions such as the woman being the leader of the household dearly in her heart, as is represented by the kitchen being her own space which she doesn’t share.

The children, Yousef and Noora, hold a special place in the family unit, they are the new generation, the offspring which brings forth a better future for the family. They are young, and thus still idle, as is represented by their youthful and joyous antics.

They seem to disregard their father’s moral views when it comes to things of their generation, new technologies bringing to them pop music and belly dancing video lessons.

Still they respect their parents, even though they seem to think they know better, and follow certain traditions of their religion, even though they question some of them.

Yousef is ready to take the fall for his dad when a guilty pleasure of not so halal starburst wrapper is found, showing he is willing to blame himself over the order of the family gathered around religion, because he is the youngling who must have made the mistake, while his sister Noora closes her eyes on both her parent’s mistakes in raising her, one being her father’s disapproval of her listening to pop music, and second as she waits for her mom in the car endlessly, as is tradition when waiting for an arab woman to get ready for an event.

All in comedic spirit, the structural elements of family are drawn in an expert manner to represent in an almost anthropological Levi-Straussian but hilarious way what it means to be part of an ethnic minority, as is explained by the fact that the film crew is American, the whole point of the video being to show from an external point of view what it means to come from a muslim american household, particularly a Middle Eastern one.

Yousef has directed into the structure of spaces, traditional gatherings like dinner, gender roles such as cleaning and cooking, an artful representation of ethnic acculturation through his own perspective as a member of the new generation of muslim americans, since he describes so well his struggle to fit in both cultures as he is torn apart in moral views, cultural values and traditions, and must pick and choose between both of them to construct his very own ideal culture.

This is what it means to come from an ethnic minority and to try oneself at representing the culture clash, the culture shock it must be for a person from the majority to enter the world of someone who is half insider, half outsider, as Goffmann might have said.

Yousef started under his alias by producing comedic videos such as sketches on his Palestinian-American family

Ethnic minorities like Muslim Americans, especially the new generation, lack a space of expression in media that they cater for on new media spheres like Youtube, as does Yousef.

There is a need for understanding and acceptation that goes beyond the simple ideas of diversity and assimilation. Young people who grew up with two cultures are both living in a process of assimilation and acculturation. They assimilate the values of both cultures, which leads them to become acculturated in the process. Culture is no longer what intrinsically defines them, it goes beyond the fact that they have origins which influence their upbringing.

Socialisation to a new culture of acceptance since birth makes it easy to adapt and integrate into the current society, yet they themselves try and implement their roots into the foundation of their identity.

Identification processes to both cultures equally show that although they come from a minority, they can help diversify the range of cultural expression in the majority by bridging the differences they are the most disposed to discover.

These challenges to connect both societal environments of dominant and minor culture are faced through means of expressions and education thanks to information technologies that set up medias through which they can inform and entertain on topics of cultures.

The dynamics in the family are interesting, and the perspective Yousef brings in this video is only the beginning of a long road of work for the youtuber, who will continue by producing vlogs in which he talks about his daily life and struggles with mental illness, like depression, as well as doing caritative work, and travel episodes.

Yousef is a globe-trotter in new media like youtube because of the variety of his content, and has gained incredible recognition and popularity.

Oumaya Al Baker is a political science analyst focusing in societal trends regarding youths and new technologies, with extensive student experience.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.