Yasmina El-Abd: “I live a beautiful and unique life”
The actress and singer on open-mindedness and not needing qualifications to be Egyptian
Hi, welcome back to Mixed Messages! This week I’m speaking to actress and singer Yasmina El-Abd, who is of Turkish, Kurdish and Egyptian heritage. Yasmina’s latest shows include Finding Ola on Netflix and Theodosia on HBO Max. Yasmina is most definitely a force for change, using her platform to speak up about social issues and giving a voice to those who are bullied because of their heritage. Read Yasmina’s story below.
How do you define your ethnicity?
I’m used to saying I’m Egyptian-Swiss – born and raised in Switzerland and lived there for ten years, but my family is from Egypt. People think I’m Latina or Italian, apparently I don‘t look Arab. But let’s not say that I’m Turkish-Kurdish-Egyptian-Swiss-American, that’s too much.
After Switzerland, we moved to Dubai for four years and then to Cairo. My family and I have been able to travel and be exposed to many different cultures, and the places we’ve lived are very international. You have a more open mind because you can understand many points of view, and it’s a beautiful, unique life to lead.
I think being mixed-race is something to be cherished and not to be ashamed of. There’s obviously the natural confusion of being a teenager, wondering where I belong, though.
Can you tell me more about that confusion?
In Switzerland I was speaking French and English, but my parents were talking to me in Arabic because they wanted me to be close to my Egyptian roots. In school, I did face teasing and borderline bullying, and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t relate to the kids teasing me. That’s where my song 24 Karat came from, a mix of that and people feeling insecure when I started working and wanting to take my power away.
Now, I know where I belong and I’m very close to my Egyptian roots. Less so my Turkish and Kurdish roots – it gets confusing at times. I’ve grown up a little bit and been able to learn about myself. I’m very content with the life I’m leading now.
How do you connect to Egyptian culture in Switzerland?
In Egypt, I only took a year’s Arabic classes, and it was beginner’s Arabic so I didn’t feel like I knew the language. You don’t have to know the language, read and write it or eat the food to be able to feel close to that certain culture. There aren’t those qualifications to being Egyptian. It’s something within you.
Did you ever speak to your family about your identity?
My family brought their experience of travel to my upbringing. I think it’s very important to be understanding of new cultures, and I like to think that I have an open mind. It also helps me in my acting career, as I am exposed to those different markets.
Has your take on life been influenced by your mixed heritage?
I think it's the main reason. The amount of information and knowledge you gain out of meeting someone that’s completely different to you is amazing. I’ve been to international schools where my peers are all different, so I’ve been surrounded by people who don’t look the same as me and are from different parts of the world. It’s helped with my social skills, the way I treat people and the way I deal with certain situations.
Can you sum up your mixed experience in a single word?
Unique – or special! It’s a unique mix of cultures, and that should be embraced. It’s a privilege to be able to understand different people, and a good skill to have.
Next week, I’ll be talking to author Benjamin Dean. Subscribe to get Mixed Messages in your inbox on Monday.
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Mixed Messages is a weekly exploration of the mixed-race experience, from me, Isabella Silvers. My mom is Punjabi (by way of East Africa) and my dad is white British, but finding my place between these two cultures hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I started Mixed Messages, where each week I’ll speak to a prominent mixed voice to delve into what it really feels like to be mixed.