Alexa’s Interview with Micheline

Micheline, in her early 50s and of Lebanese descent, is an accomplished business woman and philanthropist, as well as wife and mother of three. She has had an incredibly interesting and diverse experience growing up around the world, and has gracefully overcome a myriad of barriers in order to become one of the most sought after marketers in California’s Silicon Valley. I met her second oldest child in elementary school and she has been a close friend of my family since. Micheline has been an invaluable influence to me and my siblings. She is incredibly kind and always wants to offer support or share a meal. As a young woman pursuing a career in business, she has been a role model of mine. 

Early Life:

Micheline grew up around the world, but was born in Lebanon, and lived there for 5 years. She cited this time in her life as incredibly influential, and when asked about any historical events that had a profound effect upon her, she brought up the war in Lebanon in the 1970s. 

“I remember even when I was like five years old. I remember. I remember there was a shooting, kitty corner. We lived in a high rise, and there was a political family. He wasn’t a politician. And I remember shooting, and I remember screaming, and it was horrifying, but I clearly remember it, and they were assassinated. It was kitty corner. It was horrible. So I remember the war.”

The war she was referencing took place in Lebanon from 1975-1990 and was responsible for over 100,000 fatalities. It was an amalgamation of a series of competing political factors and religious motivations, but is mainly attributed to shift to a more majority Muslim and Palestinian population, and the ensuing conflict between Muslim sects and Christians.  

After hearing this, how did you feel? Can you imagine living through that?

“I just remember that so clearly, and it stuck with me for a long time. It was kind of a weird feeling to remember, like, all the horrible things that happened in Lebanon and the wars and the deaths. And so that’s really stuck with me, the Civil War.”

It was because of this that her, her family, and approximately one million other people chose to migrate away from Lebanon.  It reminded me of the documentary Unsettled. This piece of media focused on primarily LGBTQ+ individuals, but in general sought to highlight the flights of those fleeing danger or persecution in their home countries, many from the Middle East, and then having to adapt to a new culture. In the film Subhi was escaping persecution in Syria, near Lebanon, and within the film he struggles with the transition to life and culture in San Francisco. Micheline herself was only five when she made this transition, but she opened up to me about the next chapter of her life, which she spent in London.

Intersectionality:

She describes this time in her life as immensely enjoyable for her in a lot of respects. Her father was employed by wealthy Saudi Arabians for nine and a half years in the city, and she pleasantly reflects on how the Saudis used to drive her to school in their extravagant cars. This oasis, however, had its turbulent moments, as she describes how she felt alienated as an Arab woman in the UK, especially within that historical context:

“I remember moving to London, and I was discriminated against. I was in a Catholic school and I remember standing up, there was a nun who was our teacher… She singled me out. She called me a foreigner because I was Middle Eastern, and because of the whole war that happened, and they were scared of, you know, Arabs at the time, it was all around that time. So that’s stuck with me.”

This reminded me of “La guera” by Cherrie Moraga, in which the author details her own personal experience feeling isolated from her classmates. She describes how class, race, and other perceptions can negatively impact one’s experience within the classroom, something Micheline also experienced because she was Arab (Moraga 31). Moraga specifically talks about how she felt inadequate not because of her intelligence, but because of disparities between the rich white culture in which she was educated and the Chicana one in which she was being raised. Micheline was still immersed in her culture and its standards back at home, and she had described to me how for instance, as a woman she was supposed to always be surrounded by family, and hung out with cousins because she lacked sisters. She was frustrated she wasn’t allowed to do things like date or stay out late, freedoms her brothers were afforded, and limitations that isolated her from her peers in a white Catholic school.

Career and Family:

 It was at the end of this time that she came to the Silicon Valley in California to live with extended family, staying very close with her mother and cousins, whom she considered to be like sisters.  She attended San Jose State University originally for biology, and then chose to pursue marketing and economics after realizing how passionate she was about studying and influencing the ways that people think and act. 

“It’s always interesting to me to say, if I do, if I say something, or, or write something, it influences people’s behavior a little bit.”

I feel like this says a lot about her as a person and as a woman: she wants to have an impact. It is worth noting that Micheline is now one of the most sought after marketing professionals in this competitive environment, and is now Chief Marketing Officer at JFrog. As a woman and mother over the decades, this wasn’t an easy feat. In bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody she details how the workplace was made intentionally hostile towards women as their economic liberation sought to tear down the Eurocentric patriarchal ideas of a capitalist America. Micheline details how her bosses treated her differently on account of her gender. She would feel uncomfortable and alienated, and felt she could not participate in the social aspects of her work in the same way. 

It these kind of experiences that remind us to be mindful of the repercussions of the power the patriarchy and capitalism hold over the equal treatment and opportunity for women. Micheline was able to overcome many of these barrier in regards to her race and ethnicity, but she should not have had to. Regardless, she is still a strong woman and mother, and I am proud to call her a role model.

My Perspective:

Something that really stood out to me about Micheline was how she seemed to own every aspect of her career. She was reluctant to admit how any barriers she may have faced affected her or the pace or position which she achieved. I see a lot of these same influences in myself as a woman wanting to pursue business.

As someone who had a small business in both economics and software, I was in mostly male dominated spaces. This also applies to many of my pursuits in screenwriting, another profession in which women are almost systematically eliminated.  I think now from hearing Micheline’s story, I perceive that some of the barriers she faced can be applied to my own life and career. As she says, “I think you sometimes end up with people who are just jerks, and I think they’ll always be that way. So whether it’s 10 years from now, when people progress or 10 years back, when they weren’t as progressive, I think they’d be the same”. When I face these obstacles in the future I can keep in mind her advice, “you deal with that direct on and you still be yourself and be your authentic self, and don’t let it bother you and you just keep pushing harder.”

hooks, bell. Feminism Is for Everybody. Routledge, 2015.

Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America. Directed by Tom Shepard, 2019.

Moraga Cherríe, “La guera.” In This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color. SUNY Press, 2015.