Fitting in or not at all

Sunday, October 7, 2018 - 5:14pm

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Sadhana Ramaseshadri/Daily

When I was 11 years old, I decided to wear a headscarf. I knew I would eventually wear one because as a Muslim, I believe it’s required of me. While others don’t, it all depends on people’s personal beliefs. My close friends wore one, and so did my mom, so it seemed like the appropriate time to take the plunge. When I told my mom I wanted to wear a scarf, she took me out to buy headscarves for girls my age. Before I knew it, the day came when I chose to wear one in public for the first time. It was pretty anticlimactic. My mom was going to the grocery store, so I wore a cardigan as I normally would, and put on my headscarf. I remember walking out the door, self-conscious, because it was the first time I went out in a scarf and I thought those who knew me would stare. But nobody did. It was just like any other day.

I should clarify, however, that I’m from Dearborn, Michigan. Dearborn is home to the largest population of people of Middle Eastern origin in the United States and has a large Muslim population. So, my wearing a scarf was completely normal, as many other girls and women in Dearborn wear headscarves. I also didn’t feel any different on my first day of sixth grade, which was the first time I wore a scarf to school.

The only time I did feel weird was when I went outside of Dearborn. People from Dearborn refer to this phenomenon of the “Dearborn bubble,” because it’s like we live in our own protective shell and I’m starting to realize the truth of it. When I went to Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi for the first time, which is only 35 minutes away, I remember feeling people stare at me. I don’t know if this was because I was self-conscious because there weren’t many Muslims around, or because it actually happened. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve learned not to let people’s staring bother me.

But my headscarf wasn’t the only thing that made me feel different from others. While I may look different from many Americans, I’m still an American. On a family trip to Lebanon, I realized how different my sisters and I were from my cousins. They always refer to us as Americans, because we don’t entirely fit into their culture. We prefer English music to their Arabic music, and we have distinct fashion tastes. Even the way they style their headscarves is different than how I style mine.

Still, when I come back home, some Americans don’t think I’m American. In fact, I was once walking to class when I heard two voices behind me talking about how many Arabs (people of Middle Eastern origin) are boaters (derogatory term for immigrant) and don’t understand English. I wanted to tell them English is my first language and I was born here. But either out of fear or not wanting to give them the pleasure of provoking me, I just kept on walking.

I have never felt like I really fit in anywhere except Dearborn, where I’m still judged by others, but so is everyone else. Yet we’ve somehow created a culture of our own — a part of the old country and part of our own country. I don’t feel like a true Lebanese when I visit Lebanon, and I feel different than some Americans in America. But I’m just like many people from Dearborn, the child of immigrants. I hope I find that same sense of belonging in Ann Arbor, where I’ve come to realize people differ in many ways, not only in their backgrounds. At the University of Michigan, people can be whoever they want to be, without facing judgement as harshly as they might face it somewhere else. I’ve found I can be myself and be welcomed by inclusive communities here on campus, such as PILOT. PILOT is a student-run organization that works to empower and make leaders of students from underrepresented minorities on campus. This organization welcomes each of its members like family, which is truly an amazing thing. Inclusive environments like PILOT here at Michigan, makes me glad to say I’m a Wolverine.