For most of us – myself included – high school is a period in our life that we decidedly choose to ignore. No one wants to remember the era of awkward school dances, bright colored American Eagle jeans, and constantly hoping you aren’t humiliating yourself.
Up until college, I’ve only attended catholic schools…as a Muslim kid. Now, the common response to that I receive is “Why the hell….?” Well, simply put my parents valued discipline and professionalism and thought private school was the way to go.
My experiences growing up were unique to say the least. While I was discovering my identity and dealing with the same high school drama we all faced, I had many conflicting parts of me. Trying to form my identity as a Muslim, as an American teenager, and a Pakistani resulted in many frustrating moments. To make things more difficult, there always seemed to be this pressure to completely give in to each part of me, leaving the rest behind.
At the end of the day, I was never satisfied with who I was. I constantly felt fragmented and incapable of fully being one type of person. Which was frustrating as hell as a teenager, when all I wanted was to fly under the radar and be like everyone else.
Now, I don’t meant to make it sound like my entire life was consumed by conflicting identities and I couldn’t function as a student. Most days would go by quickly filled with daily life activities.
Because I grew up in Oregon, I was lucky to be in an environment where I never experienced blatant discrimination. However, my world would shake when I did encounter subtle acts of racism and sexism. These moments came from all parts of my identity and always at times that never ever felt right.
One of the greatest struggles I had was being told quite bluntly, “you’re too white to be Pakistani and you’re too brown to be American.” Talk about being stranded on a deserted island.
Or being told because I’m a Pakistani girl, there’s just some things that my older brother could do that I couldn’t.
Obviously, these comments led to frustration and many times of sheer anger. However, reflecting back at these times, the most productive change in my life occurred when I replaced the –isms with –ships.
I exchanged the racism and sexism I faced with relationships, partnerships, and friendships. It took a lot of swallowing my pride and it took a certain level of maturity I developed because of the identity challenges I faced.
It meant listening and becoming friends with people who had such strong opposing views. It meant practicing empathy and trying to understand the origin of their deep-rooted feelings. It meant being strong and relentless.
Getting to this point was never easy as a teenager, but in those moments I felt self-growth. And those moments have shaped me into the young woman I am today.
Today, I am the girl who is no longer embarrassed of having 3 different identities, but is proud of each one of them. I’m still learning how they all exactly fit together,, but I’ve found beauty in the process. And while I still face –ism moments, I know that replacing them with –ships will change the world one person at a time. So, all in all maybe high school taught me a thing or two that I don’t want to ignore.