I always saw myself as different. Living in Logan, West Virginia, there wasn’t a very diverse population, so I was always the odd one out. I used to come home asking my mom why we talked the way we did or looked the way we did.
I am a 13-year-old Muslim of Pakistani descent. My parents were born in Pakistan, but I was born in New Jersey.
Whenever we went on a trip, strangers stared at my mother’s hijab, or head scarf. I hated it. I didn’t understand what people saw different about us. I pretended I looked like everyone else. I would rather fit in than stand out.
One day, my mother showed me a video of two planes crashing into tall towers. “What is that?” I asked. I was old enough to tell that the planes hit the buildings, but not old enough to know that it was a terrorist attack. She explained to me about the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, more than four years before I was born. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. I studied the screen. “What is the Pentagon?” I asked. This was all new to me. She sighed and explained that, too.
After that, I didn’t know what to think. It all made sense now. I had always thought that America was a white people country and we were foreigners. When I went to see the Statue of Liberty in 2012, my father read us the poem on the pedestal, and I was confused. America wasn’t a refugee country, it was a white country, right?
That night, my mom showed us the lights where the Twin Towers used to be. It was so sad. Because of some bad people, so many civilians died, and I will never see the two towers. Because of them, I have to be careful in what I say, how I act, how I portray Muslims. I feel like I am walking on eggshells, all because of something I wasn’t even alive to see.
A few months ago, I was doing my homework, watching TV, just minding my business, when my mother rushed in. She told me that there was a poster at the West Virginia Capitol, and it was super offensive. She pulled up a picture on her phone titled, “Never forget — You said.” There was a picture of 9/11. The title was finished with a photo of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and a caption reading: “I am the proof you have forgotten.”
The next day, there was a meeting with all the legislators. Muslims and other people, including my family, went to show their support. I was glad to see people from my school attending, too. When we entered the room where the posters had been put up, I shivered as I wondered what it would have been like if I were in the room, or any Muslim woman, wearing her hijab. What would they have said to her?
Later, we met all the legislators. They were so nice, giving their condolences, and telling us there is no room for hate. One woman even cried about what had happened. The amazing thing was that she wasn’t even Muslim. The legislators came out and apologized, and I got to shake many of their hands.
When I went to school the next day, most of my classmates were so supportive. They asked me questions about Ilhan Omar and Islamophobia. We discussed what happened, and their support made me feel happy.
Good people aren’t the most expressive, but evil people are. People hardly ever talk about the good things in this world, but there are so many, and I think it is worth mentioning. After all, I learned that West Virginia is no place for hate.