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Dare to Reclaim Myself - Interview with Hadiya Mehdi

Questions by Heather Zeni

Here’s the original post

Heather: I have to first start off by saying that this piece gave me goosebumps throughout the entire read. It is beyond moving and I want to both thank you and celebrate you for writing it. I feel honored to have gotten to read about your reclaiming. Thank you for sharing it with us, Hadiya. Can you tell us what made you land on this topic in regards to our July theme of “Daring”?

Hadiya: Hi Heather, thank you so much for your kind words! To be truthfully honest, I am a major introvert, so being “daring” is not typically my forte. With that being said, I know that there are some situations in life that require you to be “daring,” and for someone like me, it doesn’t get much more daring than having your face plastered on the front cover of your school newspaper advocating for the very thing you’ve been running away from your whole life.

Heather: I’m hopeful that this blog will make its way into the lives of others that may need to be reminded to always celebrate who they are. What is your hope for this piece? What do you hope the audience will feel or learn when reading it?

Hadiya: My hope for this piece is to reach out to my Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as the Afghan community, to let them know that they are not alone. I know many of us struggle because of the lack of proper education and representation surrounding Islam and/or Afghanistan, but the community should know that they are not fighting this fight alone. I hope that those reading my piece understand the significance behind properly educating not only themselves, but the future generation as well. The same way love can be taught, so can hatred and the only way to fight back against that ignorance is to educate yourselves and seek out the truth.

Heather: Your ninth-grade teacher—I want to hug her for making the suggestion to write about Islam. How do you feel her influence helped you to reclaim yourself?

Hadiya: She really is an amazing woman—shout-out to you Mrs. H! Believe or not, she was the first person to ever make me feel proud of my name. In the beginning of my freshman year, she had us do an assignment on our name: Its origins, its meaning, and what it means to us—whether our name is exemplified through our character or our personality. She hung up my assignment on the board and everyday, when I walked into class and I saw my name hanging as if it belonged there—as if it was meant to be there— I felt a sense of pride unlike any other. She constantly pushed me to do better, both academically and in my everyday life, and I can’t thank her enough for it.

Heather: How did your life shift after stepping into your true self?

Hadiya: Believe it or not, I felt like a heavy boulder had been lifted off of my shoulders. Finally, I was free to speak my mind and not be a slave to other people’s perception or judgments of me. Now, I make plans around my Friday Prayers, I blast Afghan music in my car on my way to school. I noticed myself becoming happier because I no longer was living under a facade. I became so over-the-top cultural, and you can best believe I loved every part of it!

Heather: Can you help our audience understand a little more about what it felt like as a child feeling like you couldn’t be who you were? How did this affect where you are today? Good and Bad.

Hadiya: It was like constantly walking around eggshells. I had to triple-think my words before saying them out loud, wondering if it would make me stick out—and not in a good way. I allowed people to constantly mispronounce my name, fearing that I would be inconveniencing them by telling them its actual pronunciation. The things that should have been important to me, I found myself questioning if it really mattered that much. And the answer is the same as it always should have been, yes, it is that important and it does matter. All of this was a lot of responsibility to take on as a child and it made me really distant from the ones I loved most because I struggled with not being able to fit in anywhere. Even now, I still struggle with this. It is easy to ignore the words of those who don’t really matter in your life, but when it comes to those whose opinions I highly value, I still find myself triple-thinking my words, wondering what would be the best way to say something to do them without making myself the enemy.

Heather: Thank you so much for your vulnerability in writing this blog. What was the hardest part to write about?

Hadiya: The hardest part was definitely having to go down the memory lane and talk about my years in elementary school. I didn’t realize how much it still affected my inner-child until writing this piece. The taunting and the nasty stares is something that I believe will take me a while to get over, only because they never really go away. Even now, I have to endure the stares when I walk out in public with my hijab on after Friday prayer or when I speak to my grandmother in public with my native tongue At least now I can defend myself, but I cannot help but think of all the times, when I was younger, that I was left defenseless and unable to do anything for myself or my family, especially against the cruelty of the spoken word.

Heather: Is there anything more you’d like to add or that you want our audience to know?

Hadiya: Even with how bleak the world may seem at the moment, we need to understand that the world is not ending with us, at least not right now. There are many more generations to come and we need to build a better world for them. A world in which a five-year-old child does not have to suffer the burden of hiding her true identity in fear of risking her safety.

Heather: Where can our audience find you?

Hadiya: You can find my future projects and upcoming blogs at the LYF, where I currently serve as both a blog writer and an editor! Thank you everyone for all your overwhelming support, I truly appreciate it.


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