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Never was I understood, until I withstood

Lina Lyssia Abtouche inside the Princeton Chapel.
Lina Lyssia Abtouche
Noel Valero '82 & '86

Turquoise truths rushing towards me, usurp the clear lies that have already reached me. 

I try to find answers in the sea, leading to shores of my motherland, where its reverberations set my blood alight with the history of my ancestors and the strife that lies therein. The once barren land ahead holds the sacred tears that my mother shed and that of her mother’s, and her mother before her, until the world became entrenched in their silence. 


“My tears fall on deaf ears” was the only phrase they uttered. 

The wind carried these words through the years, across an ocean, to a place called “Princeton University.” All my pursuits have been directed towards entering the gates of this institution and redefining what it is to be of Princeton rather than just from it. I succeeded in entering a realm that would afford me the opportunity to further my academic pursuits all the while leaving an indelible impact. 

However, somewhere along the way the absence of a familiar presence troubled me. The hollowness transformed into an incessant ache that coexisted with anticipation for the future. I reminisced about my path leading up to this point in my life. Standing at the threshold of the line delineating the beginning of the end, I watched as she — the girl I once was — left, withdrawn into the confines of my memory, never to emerge again. 

I let her go, and now, I am reconciling with my decision as I long for she who wandered — who did not realize that the price of her endeavors was an identity conquered.

My tears are a confession to this plight. They are shed out of solidarity to my foremothers and attest to an inherent fortitude. The promise of my next chapter depends on shedding the last tear at the precipice of my journey and reconciling with what cannot be reversed or changed — only accepted — so that I can acquire the clarity necessary to answer a singular question: what is my purpose?

I came to discover my purpose years ago when I first visited Algeria — El Dzayer — the home of my ancestors. I forged a kinship with the land that had awaited my arrival. It spoke to me through the ripe figs and the sweet wind that provided respite from the smoldering sun. For the first time in my life, purpose entangled itself in my soul like a granted prayer. I found it in the mountainous landscape of my mother’s childhood home, the crimson sunset, and the twilight tapestry above. Algeria permeated my soul as I did its heart. I was entranced by my motherland and loved it with a burning desire. However, the desire of loving what once was comes with reconciling with what may never be. When I came back to America, I no longer knew my purpose as I left it behind in my bled — my country.


Prior to Princeton, my purpose could be found in my grandmother’s warm embrace as she whispered comforting words into my hair, or my father’s callused hands when he came home from a long day at work to affectionately pinch my cheek, and even in the traditional Algerian food my mother cooks to give her bloodline an eternal life. In traversing an ocean, my parents sought the American dream and the opportunities they were never afforded. I became the embodiment of this dream that they sacrificed so much for. These experiences, both inherited and acquired, are salient aspects to my identity that now comprise who I am today. I was a woman of my people before I became a woman in my own right. As such, I bore a responsibility to honor those who preceded me by establishing a precedent: a precedent in which their unattained dreams would manifest through my voice. Yet, societal constraints impeded my efforts to integrate this into practice and, furthermore, retain a semblance of familiarity.

When I came to Princeton this past summer for the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI), I held an abundance of hope for what would be catalyzed during this fruitful experience and reflection over what, perhaps, would cease in its wake. I remember at the end of the first day when, alongside the people whom I now consider my friends, we bid farewell to our families. In the middle of the parking lot adjacent to New College West, my mother refused to let me go as she held me tightly. Her tears fell down to join mine, descending to the vast abyss that unveiled the path that lay ahead of me. Our tears were the words we left unsaid, that have been buried deep within our souls: forgotten and abandoned. They aged and accumulated until the only truthful presence that remained was that of the silence embedded within our veins. When our tears finally chose to part with us, we were liberated from the pain and despair that have tainted our purpose. One after another they came in waves carrying memories of joy and sadness alike. Our once heavy hearts surrendered these tears — these tangible pieces of the past — so that we could move on to a new beginning. This was the day where I completely crossed through the gates, where I knew that in order to return to the sea I had to first emerge from the throes of adversity. 

My purpose is derived from the truths evident in the sacred waves that merge the boundaries of two lands, as invisible hands encase my body, pulling me further away from my motherland. I saw my tears reflected in the irises of my mother’s eyes: the color of the fertile soil birthing nature, to nurture, to ensure my future. I am the reclamation of her voice, the embodiment of her dreams, and the catalyst for the future, whereby I speak on behalf of those underrepresented — who have guarded their tears —  and empower them to release their burdens. Because purpose is ever changing, while inherent to each of us. We are all here in the world, at Princeton, and among one another for a reason. We must help each other in realizing that in spite of the hardships that come, Princeton becomes what we become of ourselves. Because even if I was never understood, regardless of if I never return to my previous life, even if I lose it all, at least I withstood. 

Lina Lyssia Abtouche is a contributing writer for The Prospect from Ewing, NJ and part of the Class of 2027. She can be reached at

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