Being a hormone-ridden teenager is, in and of itself, punishment enough. You're stuck in a terribly inadequate education system, susceptible to sneak attacks of acne, and constantly feeling the pressure to assimilate to fit your peers' expectations. In a word, it sucks.

But how does the pubescent experience change when assimilating to American-teen norms means forsaking your culture in your parents' eyes?

That's one question playwright and slam poet Summer Awad explores in her new play,  "Walls: A Play for Palestine." Currently showing in New York City as a selection of The New York International Fringe Festival, "Walls" is equal parts personal and political, drawing on the writer's own experiences as a second-generation Palestinian immigrant as well as exploring the impact of Israeli occupation on her ancestral homeland.


Awad was inspired to the write "Walls" after starring in a production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" in college.

"I really liked the fact 'The Vagina Monologues' had these interviews with hundreds of women and then turned them into monologues," Awad told Revelist. "This was the same time when I was trying to learn Arabic and trying to learn more about my Palestinian heritage, so I started thinking wouldn't it be cool if I could do something like this for Palestinians? What if I did the 'Palestinian Monologues'?"


Feeling invigorated by the prospect of activism through theater, Awad designed her own major around literary activism and got a research internship to conduct interviews at Palestinian refugee camps.

photo: Summer Awad

After her Middle Eastern travels, though, she realized the story she felt most compelled to share was, in fact, her own. Thus, Awad's unique upbringing growing up in Tennessee with a conservative, West Bank-born Muslim father became the backbone of "Walls."

"I really started exploring my own experience growing up Palestinian-American, my relationship with my very conservative Muslim dad who wouldn’t let me date or go to prom or talk to boys or anything like that," she said. "While at the same time, we're weaving Palestinian history and culture and historical facts throughout this narrative and trying to put the personal and political together."

Stylized as monologues and slam poems, "Walls" is brought to life by three characters: A young American woman, her conservative Muslim father, and a female embodiment of their ancestral land, "Mother Palestine." Though the play does carry a very specific political message (namely, that Palestine should be freed of Israeli occupation), Awad believes it's overarching themes are relatable to all second-generation Americans.

photo: Summer Awad
"I’ve actually had a lot of people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds say they can relate to the show, and I think it’s especially true of immigrants," Awad said. "I think some of it has to do with the fact that when your parents are assimilating, they want to keep a very clean reputation. They don’t want anything to go wrong for you. They’re trying to fit in with the immigrant community that they found, but also fit in with this new American community. So a lot of people have this experience of their parents being very strict."

This strictness can apply to women, especially, as many parents are coming from cultures where gender roles are "a little more defined," Awad said. For both she and her play's protagonist, that manifested in being forbidden from partaking in certain American events and institutions.

"The (protagonist) is going behind her dad’s back and wearing a two-piece swimsuit, even though he told her not to. Or she’s trying to figure out a way to go to prom even though she’s staying with her dad on Saturday night and he doesn’t allow her to," she said. "I think for a lot of immigrant parents, these seemingly small things are a much bigger deal because it’s your reputation not only among your community in your new country, but it could even reach your relatives back home if they hear what your Americanized child is doing."

Through her work, Awad hopes to illuminate different aspects of the immigrant experience, as well as provide a platform for the underrepresented Palestinian voice in America.

"My main goal with this particular play is to tell the story of the Palestinians who don’t get a voice in the Western media," Awad explained. "We get one narrative, which is coming from the Israeli side. A lot of people ask why I don't include an Israeli perspective in the play, but you can get an Israeli perspective anywhere you look in the U.S. It’s really a tool of education, and that’s what my goal is in theater."

"Walls" is playing at FringeNYC August 20, 23 and 25. Tickets can be purchased for $18 on the festival's website.