Bintou Tunkara: Double Worlds for One Journey to Success

Bintou shares her journey as a Muslim, female Gambian-American, and her hopes to keep her traditional values whilst pursuing her dreams and ambitions. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

It’s a school day, and like most of my peers, I go to class, grab some lunch, and stay after school for a club meeting. However, as soon as I step foot out of Benjamin Banneker High School, and go into my home, I enter a new world. Or, I should say the “Old World”. Everything changes. Instead of going home, like many of my classmates, to rest, play video games, or start my homework; I am tasked with washing dishes, reminding my parents of the main bills due, and helping to cook the family meal of the day.

On some occasions, I get calls or visits from my aunts and uncles asking me when I am going to get a husband or if I know how to make at least ten Gambian dishes. Every single day of my life, I am challenged with balancing what I am, an American, with who I am: Gambian, Muslim, and African-American. My name is Bintou Tunkara and I want to change the narrative of what it means to be Gambian-American, Muslim, Female and Black. I want to change the change the narrative of what it means to be me.

In the Gambian culture, women are supposed to possess Hayaa’, which in the Islamic faith is a term for modesty and shyness. Women are also expected to obedient. Many of the careers that are considered “appropriate for women”, in my Gambian culture, are centered in the field of healthcare. They choose this career field because they feel like it offers more job security, and it’s the only way to help people. While healthcare offers many wonderful professions, women are not encouraged to seek careers outside of this field. I have also found that many of them have interests in careers like engineering or education, but don’t have the courage to make their aspirations known. I want it to be known that it is still possible to keep traditional values while following your dreams.

This issue within my community has inspired me to look at other career fields that are outside of those deemed “appropriate for women”. With my current interest in local government and education, and with my past two summer interning for the City of Union City Government, I believe that I am building the bridge for young girls like me to follow what they want in life, and not fall into what they are expected to do. My drive to changing the narrative began with me serving in many capacities that I would have not thought of.

I was courageous enough to lead the World Hijab Day at Banneker, which was a global day to recognize women who wear the Hijab. I added my own twist to the movement. I decided to bring about 20-30 scarves to school and allowed for my classmates, and school officials to wear it for the whole school day.  I was scared of the outcome because of media’s perception of Islam, but surprisingly a lot of people embraced the movement. One of my counselors who participated in the movement said that her views on Muslims changed ever since she participated in the movement and she feels like the media does not represent Muslims in the light that it should be shown in.

My background shapes who I am and what I want to stand for. The next chapter in my life, which is attending a college or university will strengthen my brand, and I will get to further define what it means to be me: Muslim, Gambian-American, and Female.