As young adults, we often struggle trying find comfort our own skin. For 22-year-old Sarah Catalfu, however, the struggle was not so simple.
Catalfu, a journalism major at the University of Florida, grew up amidst two identities.
Born in Adana, Turkey, Catalfu was adopted into an American family and moved to Germany by the age of one.
“Germany was the only country that would take me,” Catalfu said. “I was what they called ‘nationless’”.
Catalfu’s biological family fled Iraq before she was born and became illegal refugees. Since she was not born on Iraqi soil and her parents were not citizens of Turkey, she did not hold citizenship in either of the two countries.
Catalfu’s adoptive parents began to file papers after they arrived in Germany, and were able to move her into the United States by 1994.
“I never forgot I was adopted,” she said. “My parents explained that they weren’t my birth parents, but they always made it clear that they still loved me.”
Being Iraqi in an American household became difficult for Catalfu after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Islamophobia grew,” she said. “Because I was Iraqi, people assumed I was Muslim and therefore a terrorist, which is a completely incorrect assumption. People don’t understand the implications when you call a child a terrorist.”
At the age of 16, Catalfu said she was able to reconnect with her biological brother, Evan Eskharia.
“I took out my adoption papers and googled my last name,” she said. “I found two of my brothers Myspace accounts and emailed Evan, who was deployed in Afghanistan at the time.”
Eskharia immediately contacted Catalfu’s biological mother in California. The family had been deported from Turkey two times. The second time they were placed in a refugee camp and were able to claim political asylum in the United States by 1994.
Two years after contact had been made, Catalfu met with her biological family.
“It was strange,” she said. “I had always been the black sheep. Meeting people I could physically tell were my family was emotional. Emotional, that’s the best word I can use to explain it.”
Marcus Eskharia, Catalfu’s biological father, had previously been a guard in Saddam Hussein’s palace.
“He explained it was hard for them to pick up and leave because they had six kids,” she said. “However, when the persecutions of Christians got worse, they left.”
The experience of meeting her biological family has allowed Catalfu to come to terms with her background.
“Honestly it was hard growing up with two identities,” she said. “It has led me to become more accepting of other people but also made me realize that other people need to accept me. Who I am is not wrong.”