Hibaq Hassan: My American Journey

Hibaq Hassan
To spotlight and amplify Muslim American voices, join MALA’s campaign to elevate public dialogue on Muslim-American identity in the 21st Century. In the spirit of this inspiring episode and series, share your story with us: what is it really like to be Muslim in America? Selected stories are shared by MALA and National Geographic.

As I stare into my mother’s eyes, I can see the misery.

I looked at her arm, the scars are as visible as the stars in the dark night. I ask her how the scars appeared on her soft and beautiful skin. She reminds me of where she came from, the war, the blood, and the tears. She proceeds to remind me about how her and my step-father escaped a war-torn country as they were in the process of finishing their education. Right before the war broke out, my step-father completed his Bachelor’s of Business at one of the top colleges in Somalia, University of Mogadishu.

Unfortunately, he was unable to bring his diploma to America, due to the ongoing violence in his small town. He shuffled several jobs to give us the best life he could offer in the United States. My parents would remind me every day about the significance of education and how fortunate I was to have the have the chance to explore educational opportunities.

Fast forward to high school, the four years my parents warned me about since the day I learned to read.

My parents always reminded me that high school was my one-way ticket to getting into a good college and being successful. I was always an Honor Roll student in middle school, but somehow I thought A’s in high school were out of my reach. I spent my eighth grade summer worried about high school and fulfilling my parents dream of being “successful” in high school. I was so desperate to be “smart” that I started to memorize the dictionary. I was determined to be the best but, I was also scared and worried that I wouldn’t be good enough to meet my parents’ expectations.

During my freshman year I was so focused, motivated, and determined to be nothing but the best.

I was involved in numerous organizations and clubs in my high school, running for student council and even being elected the Freshmen class president. I wanted everything to be perfect, especially my grades. I was hungry for success, and wanted to make my parents proud. I didn’t want them to feel like their long journey to this country was for nothing.

But sophomore year, my parents divorced.

I felt like there was no reason for me to try anymore and everything went downhill. I stopped asking for help, and never talked to anyone about my problems, letting them fester and kill me inside. I was depressed and I started to push my friends and family away. It became worse when my counselor told me that there was no hope of me taking advanced classes. I felt as if my dreams were being crushed each day. I decided to make a change, I applied for college possible the day before the applications were due. I didn’t want to apply because I thought I wasn’t worthy of it.

After I got accepted, it boosted my self-esteem and that’s when I knew that I was only hurting myself and my future with the choices I was making. I began to work hard again and bring my grades up, and luckily I ended the semester really well. I realized my school at the time was not right for me: it was an environment full of negativity, and I was not receiving the support I needed to succeed.

Junior year of high school changed me as a person.

As I switched schools, I also switched mindsets. I spent the summer regaining my confidence, and setting goals to accomplish by the end of my junior year. Throughout the year, I stayed consistent and positive. I started taking PSEO classes to challenge myself because I knew I was capable. I became heavily involved in my high school, and also became the vice president of Muslim Student Association (MSA). My experiences have helped me realize that you’re what you make of yourself. I knew if I didn’t advocate for myself no one else would.

During my senior year, I’ve maintained momentum to achieve substantial things.

I’ve continued to take PSEO classes at MCTC, and I’m currently a Genesys Works Intern at downtown Target Headquarters. I’ve also extended my position as the vice president of the Muslim Student Association, and helped organize a multicultural night at my high school. This event was a successful and very inclusive event. It included a variety of different cultures, and many great acts, such as a spoken word/poetry, and a video including highlights staff and students talking about the “impact of culture at heights.” I’ve also had the pleasure of competing in a “Poetry Out Loud” competition that took place at my high school. I advanced to regional, and even went on to compete in the state finals. It was a great learning experience.

Even though I’m not the brightest of students and I don’t have the golden 4.0, I’m still very proud of myself. My past experiences do not hold me back but instead have given me the resources to keep achieving success. I don’t believe that my grades reflect my intelligence. Success isn’t about always being at the top, it’s about finding your way to work your way up. I know for certain in the future I will be able to tackle any issue or struggle without doubting my abilities or strength.

As I stare into my mother’s eyes, I can see how gratifying my competence in overcoming my previous hardship has been. I have become a stronger person, and I hope to witness that look of hope in my mother’s eyes again, as a I continue to fulfill my ambitions.


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