“My written piece is a story penned to my younger self.
It is to let her know that despite she may at times feel like she does not belong, she will warrior on and eventually find a place where she can be her truest self. She finds this place of belonging through the love of her family, friends, culture and community.
This story is to inspire other little girls who are on their journey of finding belonging and community, so that they too can ‘imagine what is possible’.”
Dear little me,
It is your first day at school. Although you are curious about your new environment, you are
extremely shy and keep to yourself. The teacher will call on everyone to introduce themselves. You say your name, but unlike the other children, you say your name again and again for everyone to understand. This was the first time you had to repeat your name constantly. You are too young, too innocent to think anything of it.
A few years will pass by, and every first day is still the same. You will start to realise now,
realise how you are different to others. Without even being consciously aware, you try your
hardest to hide these differences. You once loved having your hair braided. Your mother and
aunties would take their turns in braiding your hair in whatever style you wanted. You stop.
You no longer want your hair this way. It was not trendy; it was not accepted and that feeling
of being different had to disappear. You feel yourself slipping away, and you wear a new mask that has been moulded for you by the world.
With your new mask on, you finally believe you are worthy of acceptance and love. You begin to neglect everything that you believe will be damaging to this mask. You hold little interest in learning about your family's history and embracing your culture. You are oblivious to your own pain of trying to fit into a world that was never made for girls like you.
With time you will find that even with this mask on, it will never be enough. It will not be
enough for you, and it will not be enough for them. You will become angry and you will become confused. All you want is to be your truest self, but you do not know how.
So, you will begin to question your surroundings. You will begin to separate reality from
fantasy. The fantasy that if you continued to abandon parts of who you were, you
would be worthy. You realise this is no longer valid. No matter what you did or how hard you
tried, you would always be different. You would always be treated different. You will question time and time again if it was because of the colour of your skin, the foreign name, thick hair or your proud immigrant parents who refused to assimilate. You are not able to understand and so the anger and confusion grow.
A few years will pass by again, but this time things start to look different for you. One day you realise all the pain you had been carrying. The pain of trying to be someone other than you. It is during these times you find love with your family. Happiness through your culture.
Relatability with your best friends who share your same struggles. You start to release this
pain. You will find belonging and community, I promise. You will give yourself permission to be whoever it is you want to be, unapologetically.
So dear little me, here is to going beyond and imagining what is possible.
Dear little me by Birkti Mesfin is created for Shelter 2020.