Nooran describes her struggle to reconcile two identities growing up in a small New Hampshire town. Her story speaks to the power of confidence, perseverance, and heritage.
I had an innocent childhood. I never saw a difference between the little girl at home who spoke Arabic with her mother and climbed onto my father’s back while he prayed and the little girl at school who excitedly played foursquare with her friends and wrote stories during class. As a grew older I began to question how exactly I fit into this world.
In small town New Hampshire, I became very suddenly aware that I was one of the few Arabs and Muslims in my school. Everything about me became questions my peers asked me, that I could only stutter out answers to. Why does your mother wear that thing on hair? Why don’t you go to school dances? Why is your religion always on the news?
I felt myself falling into an abyss of uncertainty and began to distance myself from who I was. The separation of my two identities, Arab Muslim and American, was complete. I kept them as far away from each other as possible. At school I actively worked to deflect from my faith and ethnic background. At times for good measure, I would even make fun of my own culture in an attempt to appease the whiteness that I so wanted to fit into.
There were so many things that changed me. Visiting Palestine. Entering college and that first time I entered the office of multicultural student affairs where I met other students of color who grappled with the same identity dilemma as me. Meeting inspirational Muslim women in my freshman year at the National Muslim Women’s Summit hosted by MALIKAH. Volunteering in refugee camps in Jordan. Interning at the United Nations in New York City. Suddenly, I was no longer the timid little girl who was ashamed of being Arab and Muslim.
These experiences taught me something beautiful about myself and with every challenge I embarked on came a lesson about myself to myself. I became my own younger self’s wildest dreams and there was no longer a contradiction in the intersections of my identity; I am an Arab, an American, a Muslim, a woman and so much more. I am the culmination of my parents dreams, my own dreams, my experiences and the light of all those who have inspired me over the year.
As the time passes, I only discover more about myself. This year I discovered that some of the most inspiring people in my life have been my professors. I discovered that they believed in me, giving me no excuse not to believe in myself. I discovered that I am a very persuasive and persistent person who is able to raise money for causes I am passionate about simply by using my words to invoke empathy in others. I discovered that I am a hard worker who was able to write my first research proposal ever, which was approved. I discovered that I am vulnerable and was able to create a space for women of color to be vulnerable with one another.
It has been years since I have been that little girl who would stare in the mirror and not understand why I didn’t look like my peers or do the things they did. I felt hopeless and was convinced that I had no place in this world, that who I was as a person was an existence of contradictions, too many mismatched identities that were puzzle pieces that would never fit together.
Today I am convinced that there is no part of me that is complete without the other. I accept myself and love myself for every dimension of my being. I see no contradictions anymore. I feel whole. And my identity is still ever-changing and evolving; as I learn more about myself, as I live new experiences, as I travel new places, meet new people and take more risks. I wish I could go back in time and tell my eleven year old self that everything was going to be more than okay. That I would become my own Superwoman.