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.
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.
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.
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."