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Cultural Autobiography/Reflective Personal Development Paper

Jalaika K. Hasan
George Mason University
Dr. Ndura

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

I have a beautiful family and I hold a true appreciation for my

cultural identity. My parents, grandparents, extended family members,
brothers, sisters, friends, and children are all gifts that I treasure in my
life and they color my days in this world with love, humor, and joy. My
own personal history begins in Washington D.C. where I was born on
July 13th as the third child and second daughter to African American
parents Rabiah and Khalil. An aspect of my personal identity is shaped
by my position in the family. My parents who have both modeled
lasting partnership and friendship have now almost reached their 40th
wedding anniversary. When my parents were young they decided that
they would have a large family of many children. I have four sisters
and two brothers and the seven of us are all very close. As the middle
child I learned to be patient and observant. I find myself a careful
listener who pays attention to others, a natural peacemaker, and a
free-spirited individual who is willing to consider many perspectives.
Both of my parents with their even temperaments, my Mother cooler
headed than my father, worked to instill the values of treasuring
family, keeping faith, and the importance of education in all of us. We
were raised to appreciate and listen to one another while valuing our
individuality and our family heritage. My siblings are an essential part
of my life and my brothers and sisters taught me to have a worldview
that is centered on being patient, fair, and flexible.

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

At first glance, quite often, I am not what most people expect me

to be. Although I am American to the core, hooked on American
staples such as apple pie, fireworks, barbeque, corn-onthe-cob, and
good American movies and music, for most of my life I have had this
brief and rather circular conversation regarding my identity with
individuals whom I meet. Where are you from? Oh, America, I see
yes, but where are you really from? DC, hmm Well, where are your
parents really from? Ah, well, where are your parents, parents from!
This tte--tte always made me feel as if saying Im American or I
am African American was not the correct answer, although I knew that
it was! I would speak to my family and friends about these little
conversations and we would laugh and smile about all of the
assumptions that people made about me within the first three minutes
or so of meeting me. On many occasions I was accused straight out of
denying my North African or Middle-Eastern heritage to the point that
I started asking my parents if there was anything else that they
needed to tell me, or anything else that they wanted to mention, which
became a funny conversation after the fourth or fifth occasion. The
regularity of these occurrences and little circular conversations about
who I was made me come to the realization early on that my
characteristics, styling, mannerisms, and my outer appearance did not
necessarily always correspond with typical views of what an American
was, or for that matter even what an African American was considered

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

to be by many. For this reason it became natural for me to seek to

have cultural awareness and an appreciation of multiculturalism at a
very young age.
The cultural identity I hold and my ethnicity was shaped in many
ways by my first teachers, my parents. My father Khalil a writer and
editor, grew up in the District of Columbia and was raised by his
grandmother and mother as an only child. For all of my life I have
considered my father to be a sociable intellectual, who understands
the power of words, and a man who identifies strongly with the African
American people. I was taught about the depths and intricacies of the
African American experience by my father and I was encouraged to
read about the history of the African people and the history of the
Americas and I took his advice and learned about my country and my
people. My father also has ethnicity that traces back to Native
American Indian tribes on his grandmothers side and African American
and Dutch on my grandfathers side. I vividly recall my great
grandmother Vivian also known as Dee Dee in my childhood
memories. Dee Dee was a well read soft spoken yet firm/strict, petite
woman and she used to keep her hair in a long braid that flowed down
her back reminiscent of the Native American Indians that settled along
the Mississippi and in Louisiana where many of her family members
and ancestors were from. Grandmother Dee Dee was a devout
Christian woman who went out of her way to be kind to all of her

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

neighbors and to her church. I was raised as a Muslim and we all

prayed in our own individual ways; however my grandmother did not
quite understand the need for so much water as she would say flatly,
and she did not understand the water that would get everywhere when
we would prepare ourselves with ablutions or cleansings for our five
daily prayers. I remember Grandmother Dee Dees unyielding
attempts to strictly enforce the no wasting of water rules especially in
the summer months in DC and this mle over water conservation was
never ending. I always found some humor in these slight differences.
At the end of each day my father would calmly and patiently explain to
my grandmother Dee Dee that we were using the water for purification
purposes for worship and this was part of our practice and family
culture and he would reassure her that we were not intentionally
wasting water. I attach importance to this memory because it taught
me how to smile and bear differences with people with patience and
My mother named Rabiah, an attorney and educator, was raised
in Chicago and in the summers Lakeside Michigan with her parents and
one older sister my Aunt Francine. My mother taught courses,
developed curriculum and then when I became a young woman my
mother became an attorney and began practicing law. She has an
ease about her that is calming and serene and she and is a major
influence on me to this day. My mother is my lighthouse in life; she is

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

warm, thoughtful, considerate, intelligent, and patient. During my

formative years my mother was always a teacher; she would read to us
everyday and take walks with us often unless it was raining outdoors,
and encourage us to make healthy choices in all aspects of our lives.
Our family ancestry on my mothers side traces back to the people of
St. Thomas Island on my grandmothers side. My mothers mother
Lucretia was the youngest of fourteen children and she had a
wonderful sense of style, wit, and humor that made her a pleasure to
be around when I was younger. My grandmother Lucretia was also an
English teacher and retired as a college guidance counselor in the city
of Chicago and she now resides in Maryland near most of my family
Grandma Lucretia loved nurturing her students, teaching, and
being near the water in order to unwind in the off-season. We all used
to visit my grandmother in the summers in Michigan at my
grandparents lake house, and I used to visit the college in Chicago and
spend time in her office with her and her students. I always felt that
she was genuine in her interactions with people. I also share the
passion of working with students with the women in my family and I
find being near the water relaxing as well. I learned the art of
storytelling, gardening, and cooking with the essential ingredient
butter!from my grandmother and mother. Our days in the kitchen
were always lively and preparing homemade meals and desserts

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

brought all of us together often. To this day I truly enjoy helping

others, cooking especially using fresh spices and ingredients, and I rely
on common sense, wit and humor in my work as an educator.
Another important individual who helped to shape my cultural
identity was my African American grandfather Frank Knight on my
mothers side. The Knight family members were a strong and
resourceful people from Alabama and areas of the U.S. south. Great
grandmother Knight (my grandfathers mother) was officially known as
Big Mama although she was actually quite petite in stature; however
her way of being was very grandiose. She cared deeply for others and
her home was open to anyone in need. My grandfather grew up with
his sisters during the tumultuous times of blatant discrimination,
segregation and the many social injustices and civil rights struggles in
American history that occurred throughout the south. My grandfather
served his country during World War II and worked tirelessly to rise
above the injustices he experienced and witnessed in his younger
years by obtaining an education, treating others equally, and striving
to make a better life for his family members. I feel that my
grandfather was successful in this goal and he was brave in so many
ways, may he rest in peace. My grandfather took time to talk to me
one on one and he shared with me the importance of family, manners,
honest choices, and actions. I am so grateful that I had those talks
with my grandfather because his words resonate with me and

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

encourage me to strive to be better for myself and for my people who

endured so much.
The culturally rich blend of ethnicities in my own personal
composition and makeup helps to frame my personal identity and
keeps me aware of the importance of having an open heart to the
many different cultures and varieties of people in the world. My friends
and family members come in many shades and hues of browns, reds,
tans, yellows, crme cafs, honey shades, caf au laits, pale creams,
and beyond. At an early age I observed all of the varieties and
different cultures and subcultures in my own family, extended family,
and friends and I quickly understood and appreciated the diversity and
complexity of the human family. I went to private school during the
elementary years and made many life-long friends from regions in the
world including India, Pakistan, the Middle-East, and areas in Africa and
the United States. One of my dear friends nicknamed Zaytune had an
instant connection with me since the fifth grade; we played softball
together and enjoyed the same type of music and zest for life. She is
of Jamaican and West African/Lebanese descent and she also now
works in the field of education. Currently she lives in the Middle East
and is teaching and working as an educator. I found it easy to get
along with her and her family and we both shared the experience that
it was very difficult for people who we encountered to pinpoint where
we were from. She too had experienced some of those little circular

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

conversations about race and ethnicity as I had always had! We would

spend time laughing about our days and we still catch up with one
another during the summers.
I have gleaned the importance of collaboration with others from
my life and I have an appreciation of multicultural interactions from my
experiences and from the world lessons that taught me how my own
identity was a combination of both past and present. During my
formative years I learned Arabic and developed an interest in
languages and later studied Spanish in college and Arabic again as an
adult. In my personal time in my youth I occupied myself with
activities such as Model United Nations, the Cultural Alliance Club,
dance, and individual studies of the countries and cultures of the
world. Currently I work in an International Baccalaureate World School
as coordinator and a teacher and I hope that the work that I do is
beneficial to my students and colleagues.
A few of the major themes that have impacted my personal
identity and outlook regarding education are the concepts of the
transformative power of education, and the importance of
contentment, patience, and perseverance. My grandparents worked
alongside my parents to help shape my cultural identity and personal
identity by constantly teaching me the value of self-love, appreciation
of my heritage and respect for education not only for its valuable
lessons but for the way that education may be utilized as a tool and a

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

guide. Although my grandparents and parents had different practices

and beliefs, we worked together in harmony with one another as a
family unit and education was essential to everyone. Building on the
idea that was instilled in me that, you must seek knowledge from the
cradle to the grave and that education is for all people, I hold the
belief that education is a lifelong experience that may change the life
of any one human being. I hope that the educational experiences that
I share with my students are transformative and meaningful to them in
the present and in some way in their futures.
Reflecting on who I am as an educator, my own home was and
still is full of energy, sharing, respect, care, learning and laughter. In
my experiences I have learned that many important lessons and
meaningful exchanges occur more easily in an environment of
cooperation, peace, caring, and laughter. I take the lessons of learning
and laughter into my educational environments and classrooms and I
keep the goal of equality and equity ever present in my interactions
with others. Part of my identity has been shaped so strongly upon the
principles of cultural cooperation and sharing that I am naturally
inclined to work to establish a safe cooperative learning environment
for my students where the learning expectations are high and the
support is ongoing. As an educator I hope to be a life-long learner and
I value the ebb and flow of the learning journey especially when
working with diverse populations. I pay close attention to the needs of

Jalaika Hasan. EDUC 537

those around me and enjoy the challenge of working towards

educating others. I feel that I am continually growing as an educator
and I am continuously rewarded by what my students and what life has
to teach me every day.