Once upon a time, seventeen years ago, my parents won the visa lottery and the trajectory of my life changed forever. My name is Imane Ait Daoud. I am a Muslim. I am an American Immigrant. I am Moroccan, and most importantly, I am a young woman trying to figure out where I belong.
Being a Muslim immigrant in the United States means growing up in a community where no one looks like you. It means going through an education system that wasn't built for people like you. It means growing up a thousand miles away from aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and everyone who is supposed to contribute somehow to your development during the most critical periods of life in which one is supposed to develop a sense of self.
Your interactions with your neighbors are sparse because your parents are too scared to entrust their children to people with an unfamiliar language, unfamiliar values and an unfamiliar culture. They can't risk you becoming too Americanized so instead you must play alone within the safe confines of your home.
At school, there is a different kind of loneliness. A loneliness amongst people. No one looks like you, few share the values your parents instill in you and even fewer share your faith. Your entire life your social experiences were limited to interactions with your siblings and parents so you never learned how to make friends. The rules and etiquettes of society and communication are almost unknown to you because all your life you have been shielded from the very society you now must assimilate into in order to be perceived as successful.
The moment your teachers identify you as an immigrant, the lowest academic ability is assumed of you. They label you and hold you back from advanced educational opportunities until you pass a test that proves you are smart enough to learn with the white kids.
In high school, you face the ultimate identity battle of your life. Those fours years are the main period of experimentation and you must decide whether to stick to the teachings of your faith and sacrifice any opportunity for social success or to go along for the ride and blend in with every other teenager just looking for a place to belong.
Recently in the Muslim community I have seen a new trend. Some of us, including myself, in an attempt to escape the torturous social environment of high school end up starting university in the 11th grade leaving behind the social immaturity that characterizes the high school social arena. At fifteen I left high school and started college. I found myself in a new world much larger and a little more diverse than high school. For the first time in my life I was able to connect with people and find others with a common narrative.
I found Muslim women who were struggling to learn more about their faith in a society that condemns it and I learned with them. I found fellow classmates with common goals of excelling academically in order to bring to life our greatest dreams and I worked on my dreams with them. I found fellow immigrants who like me had been told they would never reach their aspirations for excellence and I continue to strive towards excellence with them.
I found friends Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Unitarian, Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist who dream of unity amongst all and I continue to fight for justice with them.
Growing up as a Muslim immigrant in America, you don't get the privileges that come with growing up in your country of origin that many take for granted. You don't get the presence and support of relatives. You don't get the social experience that comes with growing up in a community where everyone shares a common value, culture and language. And you will often find yourself being labeled, questioned and rejected by many who's minds are too narrow to comprehend the glory, power and sheer beauty that characterize your unique Identity.
One of the things I've learned from my experience is that a lack of privilege and opportunity does not necessarily translate to a loss of potential for growth. Rather it means an opportunity to grow beyond your potential. Every challenge you face enriches your experience resulting in a more powerful and fierce identity.
Not having everything that others take for granted means you get to be challenged in ways most people are not, and as a result you develop skills and characteristics unique from the rest that allow you to shine even brighter than all the stars in our galaxy combined. This is my story, and I know with great certainty in my heart that I am destined shine.
There are many obstacles and struggles that come with being a Muslim immigrant in the United States. However, there are many privileges and opportunities that come with it as well. At the end of the day what matters most is your mindset and the will to succeed no matter how much steeper the mountain you must climb is in comparison to others.