Young people born and brought up in Dubai speak about their self-styled identity
DUBAI — Where are you from? It’s the one question that renders the majority of the young expat population born and brought up in the UAE momentarily speechless. A long pause follows as they try to find a perfect label that can tie up their identity in a neat little bow.
“My grandfather came to the UAE 44 years ago,” Revna Adnani, third generation Dubai resident, said. Revna doesn’t hesitate to add, “We’re very Indian, though.” Both her parents were raised in the UAE, having met at the Indian High School 20 years ago. “We have, like, 500 relatives all over the country,” the 16-year-old joked. “So we’re obviously very connected to the Indian community here.”
The city remains divided into cultural pockets, with the country’s tourism board touting 195 nationalities in Dubai alone. Residents across the emirates express their extreme love for the place they call home, but remain detached from each other, citing a lack of common ground as a reason for segregation.
“There’s us, and we’re not as small as you think,” Emirati engineering student Rashid Al Janoubi said, referring to the Emirati population. “There are the general non-local Arabs, the South Asians and the Europeans. I think we have a growing number of East Asians and non-Arab Africans in the city, but this is just my personal observation. One thing that is obvious is that different communities don’t have many opportunities to interact. We have a clearly divided society, which is why when I hear of Indian families, for example, who have lived here for generations, I feel that they are definitely a part of the city. They are Dubawwy, even if their passport says something else,” he added.
According to Rashid, segregation is a natural phenomenon that starts at schools. “Most people come here with the mindset that their move is temporary. They don’t expect to stay here for decades, but then their children end up knowing the UAE better than their parents’ home countries, even if they go to community schools.”
Rashid’s observation seems to hold true for most young people here — Indians attending Indian schools, Francophone expats attending French schools and so on, in the event of repatriation — but an increasing number of second and third generation residents are sending their children to international schools in hopes of banding the culturally nomadic youth population together.
Revna and her ethnically diverse social circle are a testament to this trend. “I’ve been at Emirates International School since I was in kindergarten, so I’ve always had friends from all over the world who are essentially Dubai kids,” she said.
Sebastian Giacomo, Italian by passport, went to the American School of Dubai for 12 years before heading to Minnesota for college.
“I spent most of my summer breaks here. A lot of my friends’ parents are still based here, so we end up having reunions every summer,” the 22-year-old Art History major said. “All my years in the UAE have exposed me to a culture that is so different from that anywhere else in the world. It’s amazing. Two minutes on the metro during rush hour is all you need to get a brief idea of what Dubai is like. My only regret is that most of us don’t have any working knowledge of Arabic. It’s a shame, considering how we were born and brought up here,” Sebastian said.
For Rahim Al Tawi, this is the biggest issue standing in the way of a more united youth population. “A lot of expatriates say that they feel like they are as local as Emirati people, but most of them don’t make the effort to learn the local customs and language even after knowing this city like the back of their hands. I don’t understand this at all,” he told Khaleej Times.
“I know more Malayalam and Hindi than my Indian friends,” he added. “As boys growing up, I guess we were united by playing football after school in our neighbourhood. We didn’t care where the neighbours were from, and we all spoke a mish-mash of languages to get through the game,” Rahim said, recalling his childhood friends, Omar and Rahul.
“I’ve lost touch with those guys, but when you’re younger, it’s easier to make friends. It would be strange for me to approach a group of expats even at my university unless we had to work together for a project.”
Most expats claim that their cultural identity is overshadowed by decades of stereotyping, which makes it almost impossible to interact with other Dubawwys who just happen to carry a different coloured passport.
“There are so many prejudices floating around that it’s easy to be hesitant when interacting with people from a different cultural background,” said Valentina Gratsova, a Dubawwy hailing from Slovakia. “I think as expats, we assume that the local teenagers wouldn’t want to interact with us. I have a feeling that’s how they feel about us as well. They’re in their world and we’re in ours, but all of us know that we have the same intensely strong love for our city.”
2 Dec 2011
Youth power to the fore
Posted on December 3, 2011