Samanta Birto: The Strength to Understand

23-year-old Samanta Birto has known prejudice her whole life. But after converting to Islam, she found a new perspective on how to tackle it. In her story she shares how being a Dominican American has come with hardships, but how her faith has helped her overcome them.

I am a 23-year-old, Dominican-American Muslim convert, born and raised in New York. I converted two years ago and am currently the only Muslim in my family.

It’s interesting to look at my life before and after Islam. Most of the internal changes have been positive ones — especially learning how to control my ego — but the external changes have made an impact on my life, too. For example, the way my fellow Americans view me isn’t the same as it used to be. I get the occasional side-eye or scold on the train. But more importantly, and more strongly, I’ve been surrounded by many allies from different ethnic and racial backgrounds who have shown me more love than I have ever experienced before. A kind of love I wasn’t used to.

By the time I was 7 years old, I had experienced prejudice first hand. In second grade, my Chinese American best friend said she could no longer be friends with me. To her father I was African American, and that kind of friendship was unacceptable to him.

I’ve realized over time that things will change. People will come in and out of your life. The president of your country will be someone new every couple of years. Ideals will be transformed or disguised throughout the country. It’s all fluid, and there isn’t much you can do to control. But from my new religion, I have learned how, through an even temper, patience and faith, actively stand up against oppression. I have come to terms with the fact that there will always be challenges. But I’m emotionally and mentally prepared to take each one.