Let’s Get Real About Identity – #3

I’m at the halfway point of my internship and have learned a lot these past few weeks. Though, I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself as well. I am a first-generation, low SES, Muslim and Arab, hijab-wearing woman in DC. I had arrived to my internship a few weeks after the recent version of the Muslim ban was upheld by the Supreme Court. So, to say I was self-conscious about my identity would be an understatement. My first time walking past the White House, the fear of my hijab being ripped off my head was heightened to a level I wasn’t accustomed to in Ann Arbor. My first week here, I was paranoid by the stares and still feel a bit uncomfortable by them. As I looked for stores that told Halal meat, it was then I felt truly misplaced and homesick in this city.

This feeling was doubled when I attended events on Capitol Hill. In such a political climate, I thought my ethnic and religious identity would make me the most uncomfortable. Though, it was my low SES background that was really hard to address while in DC. This portion of my identity isn’t something I am necessarily ashamed about, but it has been really highlighted during the past few weeks here. Last semester, I took advantage of the Career Center’s clothes closet. Every semester, UMich students are allowed to take 3 items for free from this closet of business professional clothing. I brought these three pieces with me, along with the rest of my small “professional” items, and thought it would suffice. Last week, while on Capitol Hill attending a conference, I felt my only pair of professional shoes that I’ve had for the past three years begin to rip. I hoped and prayed they would make it to the next meeting I had to attend in the area, but they fully ripped during the walk there. I didn’t want the person I was interning with to notice so I continuing walking uncomfortably with them until we arrived. Once we arrived, I rushed to the nearest bathroom. It was time to improvise. Being of low SES background, I’ve fixed and made make-shift pieces of clothing countless times when an item ripped. I had a pin from my hijab, so I removed that and pinned together the two pieces of shoe that ripped and rushed out in time for the meeting. Everything was good until I felt the pieces rip back open and the prick of needle into my toe. I didn’t want to limp out in the middle of the meeting and embarrass myself, so I sat there in discomfort. Once everything was over, I rushed to the nearest metro and went home.

That next day, I went to a local shoe store in search of something to replace my now two pieces of shoe. Though, everything in DC is extremely overpriced due to factors like gentrifcation. This meant that professional clothing, which I struggled to afford to begin with, were double the price here. After searching through multiple stores, I gave up and Amazon primed some affordable flats. Though they are a bit large, they are making due and today they were complimented by a stranger. From trying to purchase food, to buying clothing, DC has made me more aware of my low-SES status. Though, it has also made me more accepting of it. Sure, I may not be able to afford the fanciest shoes or purse or blazer, but I’m still present in an environment that wasn’t necessarily made for “people like me”, and nothing can take away the redemption of that. I’m also extremely grateful to be able to even have accepted this internship with the scholarship I received, so I know I have to make every moment here worth while

One thought on “Let’s Get Real About Identity – #3

  • August 13, 2018 at 2:20 pm
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    Hi Alyiah! My name is Shaina and I’m an intern at the Hub. Thank you so much for sharing about the beginning of this exciting experience! It sounds like your work with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as a Governmental Affairs intern has been surprising, but also very beneficial. You have learned the ropes of what it is like to work for an NGO and I hope you are still enjoying it! But it also sounds like it has not been the easiest experience and you are learning a lot.

    Traveling to a new city alone can be nerve-wracking, but you are being very resourceful and working through it with an amazing mindset. I first off want to give you major kudos for how you handled your shoes breaking. You used a great resource on campus, the Career Center’s clothing closet, to make sure you were equipped with what you needed before you left. You took the extra step to make sure you were prepared and then worked through the mishap with such diligence and resourcefulness!

    I also want to thank you for sharing about your experience. I’m sure having to handle all of this is very hard on you while you are trying to focus on your experience professionally as well. I can not state that I understand what you are going through but if there are any resources that we can provide for you please let us know. We want to make sure you are getting the most out of your experience and let you know that there are people who care about you!

    But, I also just want to say that when you are in Ann Arbor it can feel like we are living in a bubble. For anyone, having that bubble popped can be difficult. But I do want to pose a few questions for you to think about: “What do you realize you are lacking?” Such as you talked about having trouble finding Halal meat in the city, and my next question is “Is there a community or individuals you can reach out to that will help equip you with the support and resources you need?” It really is true that is takes a village, especially when trying to navigate a new situation. Others may be your best support system!

    I am excited to hear about your experience as it continues as a Governmental Affairs intern! If there is anything we can do for you to make your experience better while in D.C. please reach out, we want to make sure you get the most out of this professional internship while also growing individually!

    -Shaina

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