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Interview for

Nada Samih-Rotondo


Interviewed By:

Shanaz Deen

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 47:15

Summary: A Palestinian immigrant born in Kuwait, Nada Samih-Rotondo shares her experience of migrating to the United States as a child following the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait in 1990. She discusses her family’s immigration journey along with the cultural adjustment of maintaining ties to Arabic, family recipes, and Islam as a newcomer to the States. Samih-Rotondo also describes how she has reflected on the trauma and forms of displacement throughout her childhood by way of academia, mentoring students, and writing her memoir.

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Additional Notes


Section 1: (00:00-12:39)

  • Childhood, historical context, trauma- Talks about being a six-year old in Kuwait City when her mom turned the television to CNN showing the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. Nada remembers the feeling of loss and dispossession when having to leave behind beloved childhood belongings after two weeks of bombings and a lack of electricity in her hometown. She describes feeling as though a significant life change was ensuing as she and her mom packed up their car and commenced a migration journey to America.

  • Family, education, language discrimination- Shares about staying with her aunt and uncle in Rhode Island and feeling as though her situation was temporary or a vacation rather than her new country of residence. Ultimately, Nada was enrolled in the first grade at a school in Johnston where there were very few people of color and she struggled with learning English. She recounts being bullied until she stood up for herself later on in her academic career.

  • Race, religion- Contrasts the racial, cultural, and religious composition of Kuwait to that of Rhode Island where she felt like a minority in her community.

Section 2: (12:40-23:58)

  • Food, language, religion - Shares a feeling of loss about her family no longer having such strong cultural and religious traditions in the United States such as drinking apricot juice on Eid or being allowed in the kitchen to help make maamoul on certain holidays. In Rhode Island, she describes how her mom was struggling to make ends meet, and these traditions were no longer the priority.

  • Family, generational difference, language- Talks about the wisdom her grandmother, who was also now living in America, imparted to her through stories of their familial roots and her grandmother’s time in Jaffa that contrasted from their experiences in the States. Reflects that these stories about the good and bad of her family’s history allowed her to have a better understanding of her Palestinian identity and where she came from. Also shares how her ties to the Arabic language faded with time in Rhode Island, but her grandmother helped her to stay as connected as possible through informal lessons at home.

Section 3: (23:59-31:12)

  • Religion, historical context, family-  Shares how she was accustomed to being surrounded by fellow Muslims in Kuwait and the difficulties of aiming to blend in to American culture as a Muslim after 9/11. Although religion was a difficult aspect of the external adjustment to the United States, Nada talks about the sense of comfort it brought her at home to develop her personal relationship with Allah with the guidance of her mother. Also discusses the importance of land and heritage in her understanding of Islam.

Section 4: (31:13-39:20)

  • Education, employment, pandemic-  Speaks about attending a state college down the road from where she grew up in Rhode Island and her early aspirations for teaching because of her love for young people. She shares how she also hoped to study creative writing when she was growing up but how she was encouraged to pursue a more lucrative career. Notes how the pandemic helped her to return to her dreams of being a writer when her teaching career was put on pause and she had time to devote to writing her memoir.

  • Conditions back home - Talks about the purpose of her memoir as being a voice for Palestine and the importance of her people having basic human rights. She also shares about the struggle of not having a right to return but hopes the memoir can serve as a connection to her homeland.

Section 5: (39:21-47:15)

  • Mental health, leadership- Shares how she mentors students with mental health issues, trauma, and emotional development through an empathetic lens while ultimately hoping to contribute to Palestine with the skills she has learned in America to help rebuild in the future. Talks about her stance that individuals have the power to change certain legislation and conditions in their country.

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