The Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that there were roughly 20 million children in the United States born to immigrants. And while immigration tends to be a point of contention with our politicians, we can’t deny that immigrants and their children continue to make this country what it is today — beautiful in rich culture and diversity, and prosperous in their drive to succeed.
Sumaia Masoom is the child of immigrants and Muslim Girl’s January Baddie of the month, not because she is a child of immigrants — but because this Muslim Girl writer understands the opportunities she has because of her beautiful background. She’s also written some engaging and pertinent political thought pieces in her research and writing. We know that this young lady will be making big waves as a Muslim woman in America, and we wanted to give you the opportunity to get to know her.
Muslim Girl: You’ve been writing for MG for a while now and we absolutely adore you. You’re smart, beautiful, and a talented writer — but we want to know who you are, where you come from.
Sumaia Masoom: My parents are both immigrants from Bangladesh — both of them lived through the Liberation War with Pakistan and are old enough to remember the atrocities. That bitter experience taught me about empathy and acceptance. It taught me to cherish the value of their hard work and the perseverance that it took them to get to this country in the first place.
I am so fortunate that my parents passed down to me, as well as to my older and younger sisters, the meaning of hard work and everything they had to do in order to build this life for us. Children of immigrants often have these lessons they share with others who’ve experienced the same struggles.
“When I came to college and had my eyes opened to all the ways global politics can create micro-level injustices and learned about all the intersections between the two, it cemented my desire to make a difference on the policy level.”
I’ve been lucky enough to visit Bangladesh several times throughout my life, as I still have most of my mother’s side of the family there in Dhaka and Rajshahi. Thus, while I call Platteville, WI (and now Evanston, IL) my physical home, as long as we have family there, as cliché as it sounds, Bangladesh will always be where my heart calls home.
You attend one of the best colleges in this country. Tell us about what you are studying and what you plan on doing with your education.
I’m currently studying Social Policy and International Studies at Northwestern University, a field I initially chose in large part because of my high school teachers; I’ve always enjoyed my social studies and government courses the most, and in my junior year, my AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher planted the idea of studying political science or public policy in my head.
Then, when I came to college and had my eyes opened to all the ways global politics can create micro-level injustices and learned about all the intersections between the two, it cemented my desire to make a difference on the policy level. Particularly in light of the events of the past few years and of the fact that my parents are immigrants,
I’ve been especially interested in studying the establishment, protection, and expansion of civil rights for Muslim Americans and immigrants alike. I don’t know exactly what I want to do post-graduation, but I’m leaning towards getting a Master’s in International Relations and going on to do policy-based advocacy work for the Muslim American community.
I don’t know that I actively aspire to be an inspiration to other Muslim girls, but I do always strive to live my life in a way that other Muslim girls who are watching me know that they have: a shot at doing whatever they want to, regardless of how small of a rock they come out from under (Platteville is a tiny, very isolated and conservative community with maybe four other Muslim families tops), and someone they can always reach out to for help.
In case our readers haven’t been keeping up with your work, please share with us some of your accomplishments.
Besides being a student and writing for Muslim Girl, I’ve been very blessed to be able to split my time with some other incredible opportunities as well (alhamdulillah). Over the past two summers I’ve interned at the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the White House Initiative for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the latter, I was the only Muslim intern and one of two South Asian interns, so it was incredibly cool to get to increase exposure of my communities’ experiences at the highest level of our nation’s government.
I’ve also been featured on the front page of The Huffington Post for writing about my experiences as a Muslim American teenager in an era of so much discrimination and blatant hate, and have written for The Hill about the ludicrousness of Congress’s slippery slop arguments regarding “radical Islam.”
While those were both amazing on a personal level, they meant a whole lot more to me knowing that they weren’t just personal achievements, but actively created dialogue on issues that so deeply affect Muslims across the country and around the world.
You took the lead on creating and updating Muslim Girl’s detailed Hate Crime Watch Tracker. Tell us why you volunteered to take on such a huge project.
I started the Islamophobic Attack tracker as a personal catharsis — I myself was a victim of multiple physical attacks in middle school and didn’t make a big enough deal about it at the time because I just wanted it to be over and done with. Now that I’m older and understand more, I recognize the power of awareness.
It’s been an incredibly draining project and I’ve had to take a step back and rely on my friends many times throughout the process, but the more we talk about the extent to which “just rhetoric” can be literally, physically harmful, the more we can move towards a country where we hold each other accountable and create, as our Constitution states, “a more perfect Union.”
I’m sure lots of people ask you about what it’s like being a part of the Muslim Girl revolution as a writer. What do you tell them? What does it mean to you?
Being part of the Muslim Girl revolution means more to me than I can say. Growing up, there were a lot of times when I stuck out because of my background as a Muslim in a rural city; then, after coming to college, there were a lot of times that I didn’t feel Muslim enough because I hadn’t grown up surrounded by Bollywood music and dinner parties (which are really just arbitrary measures that Muslim Students Associations around the country for some reason seem to use as a measure of Muslim-ness!).
In a world that often tries to silence me from both sides, Muslim Girl has given me not just a family of diverse backgrounds and all the understanding I’ve always dreamed of finding, but also a platform to finally take control of my own narrative.