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