My story of perseverance actually doesn’t start with me, it starts with my parents. Both of my parents left their countries in their 20s to better themselves and reach their fullest potential. My mother is from Puerto Rico and my father is from Egypt. They met on the streets of New York and got married soon after. I was born in New York and lived there for about 9 years. After a few bad years of barely surviving, my mother decided that she had enough. By now my little brother was born and she just couldn’t take being stagnant for the rest of her life.
We moved to Massachusetts to make a life for ourselves and try to live the American dream. Ironically, it was such a cultural shock. I went from Brooklyn, New York where my core group of friends were just like me to being the fish out of water in a small city of Massachusetts. The majority of the people around me were nothing like me, and sometimes didn’t even know where I was from.
My struggles start from this very fact. I have dealt with racism for most of my life. I have dealt with “religiousism,” (is that a word?) “sexism” and everything in between. I was called a “spic mummy” for the majority of middle school, and some of high school. Since my mother is from Puerto Rico, a derogatory term for a Puerto Rican is a “spic” which originates from the mispronunciation of the word “speak” which turns into “no spic English”. Then comes the “mummy” part. Everyone knows that the Mummies and the Pyramids come from Egypt, so this was my bullies’ clever way of insulting both sides of me.
As though that wasn’t enough, I was criticized and bullied for being a Muslim, and 9/11 did not make it any easier. I remember having my first sleepover party for my birthday that year and everyone was all set to come on the 15th and one by one, my friends were cancelling on me. I ended up spending my birthday alone. I was devastated that the actions of others could affect me so greatly. I was ridiculed nonstop. And still I persevered.
You would think that if all my classmates and friends were against me, I could at least turn to people who were just like me and unfortunately, that wasn’t the case either. Because I’m mixed I was never accepted by either group. It seems like everything that one side of my family finds beautiful is in exact contradiction with what the other side finds beautiful. I was criticized for being too short, or too thin, too fat, too light, or too dark. Basically, “too me”. Because I am me, everyone had a problem. I remember sitting in class, minding my own business and people whispering about me thinking that I didn’t speak English. Can you believe it? I was born and raised in America and now I have to deal with people thinking I don’t speak English. Haha. It makes me laugh thinking about it.
As a Muslim woman, I wear the traditional Muslim headscarf. I was the only girl to do this in my high school, and it felt like in my small city. Sometimes I would go to the grocery store and have people run up to me and try to take off my scarf, or people screaming out of their cars “this is America, you don’t have to wear that”. And still I persevered.
Despite all the negative energy growing up, I was able to graduate from high school and was accepted into almost every university I applied to. (Boo NYU!) I was even able to graduate with high honors and at the top of my class. I wasn’t #1 or anything, but fairly close. Not bad for someone who barely speaks English, eh? Lol. I successfully graduated from UMass- Amherst with a degree in Communication Disorders, which is what you major in to become a Speech Language Pathologist (Speech Therapist). I decided to focus my energy on children with Autism and continued to be successful in every career move I made.
Recently, I decided to become a stay at home mother; which has been another point of contention with my haters. It’s a decision that I do not regret for one minute, but had I been someone else, with thinner skin, I would have fallen apart. Being a stay at home mother is no easy feat, and yet, I get the looks, the comments and the passive aggressive remarks about how I don’t do anything and how I’m basically unemployed. To that I say, “if you spent a day in my shoes, you’d go running back to wherever you came from”. Even after all this, I persevered.
The point of my story is to inspire other women to persevere despite what others have to say. I’ve had many struggles in my life, more than I would like to admit or have time to write about. But I am still here. I am still successful. And not because society tells me so, but because I believe so. I am happily married, I have a wonderful son and family that I love and loves me back. I believe in a higher power and I believe that mind over matter trumps anything. I’d like the same for all of you. Never stop being who you are or stop doing what you love.