My African Identity

A Scholastic Writing Contest winner

VANDERPOOL, SUSAN

Maya Hardi

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Without luck, I would not have been born. But then, I suppose none of us would.

This might seem strange for an African-American, Muslim girl who was put in a Catholic school, who always received the blame when someone next to me was talking, or who in first grade, was told I should instinctively know about the Civil Rights movement, for a girl who was bullied for her name, so badly she eventually even legally switched her name.

Yet I know I’m very lucky.

Luck came well before me. It brought my mother to the U.S. from Ghana via a green card lottery she never meant to enter. Secretly, her brother put her name in, so, when accepted, she assumed it was a scam. Only after he explained did she realize what had happened. Later, luck allowed my parents to rekindle, what was once a forbidden love. When my father left for medical school in Turkey, my grandfather basically chased him from the village back in Ghana for approaching his young daughter. Only in the US did my parents reconnect, which led to dates at the local Cineplex, leading to marriage, which led to me.

The luck I first recall began with a move, but not as far as my mom’s. Here, I met my second family–my Nigerian neighbors. They had daughters around my age who bonded with me as we attempted to battle a snake in my apartment. Armed with a Barbie doll, a portable Mickey Mouse speaker, and a shoe, we attacked, only to realize animal control had beaten us to it. That bond never broke, and we remain influential friends even now. They have supported me through momentous events in my life, from helping me deal with bullies to dealing with my grandmother’s death.

Luck brought me strength. Recently, I’ve experienced less teasing about my skin, but I’ve become more aware of Islamophobia. During seventh grade, celebrating Eid at our local mosque, I noticed multiple police officers; their looks made me feel very anxious, to the point where I could barely speak. Seeing cops at a time when I was supposed to be happy and free with my family made me feel oddly guilty, as if it were a crime to freely practice Islam. I now better understand the roots of these viewpoints.

In my high school, there aren’t many people who look like I do. In my class of 285, there are seven African-American students. Since most of my school is culturally homogeneous, I expected to hear some ill-informed and irrational comments. I wasn’t shocked in class to hear my classmate boast about how he planned to kill anyone who said “Allahu-Akbar.” I wasn’t shocked to learn former students participated in “Kick A Jew Day,” or to hear my class make homophobic comments. However, despite this negativity, I still had the privilege to create relationships with the few diverse people there. I’ve heard stories about different cultures, religions, and sexualities and have learned I shouldn’t hide my differences or conform to my surroundings. I’ve learned how to express myself and explain my culture to people who question it.

Luck brought me to my community and has allowed me to grow into the person that I am today. My experiences have shaped the way I view the world and have shown me in what ways I want to leave my mark on it. I want to have the opportunity to learn from cultures and experiences. I want to better the lives of all people, no matter their gender identity, religious affiliation, skin color, or sexuality. I want to use the luck that I have been blessed with to inform others how to find their own.

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