A letter from a first generation American mother to her children for the school year

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Dear Amal and Amin,

You just started with Pre-K. For me, school has always been a magical place that gave me a haven that I couldn’t find anywhere else. We emigrated to America so I could have this opportunity and I will always be grateful for that.

Polite Sana Shaikh

This new life has not been without challenges. I didn’t speak English well, so I was often laughed at, rejected and silenced. I looked different too. With olive skin, green eyes and dark hair, I was always noticed in predominantly white rooms and had to realize that I didn’t belong.

I remember the school bus driver reminding me “we only speak English here” when I was speaking Urdu. “Why?” I took up the strength to ask. “Because this is America, and in America we speak English.” I remember that after the terrorist attacks from the 11th eye I mocked myself about the deportation.

I remember my white male career counselor saying to me, “Well, this is a difficult school. Are you sure? I would go to state schools, ”when I told him about my dream of going to the University of California at Berkeley. I never went back to him. I remember doing an internship at a prominent leftist institution and my white male supervisor telling me, “I feel like a British colonizer” when we started one of our first meetings. I was 25 years old and a PhD student when a white professor said to me, “You don’t look like a PhD student. College student.”

But these are my stories. I am more hopeful with you. The world has changed in many ways since my first day of school nearly three decades ago, but in many ways a lot has stayed the same. I want you to remember the following this school year:

Respect your teachers

Your teachers are not there to educate you, discipline you, change you, or judge you. They are a vehicle to drive your learning forward and to help you not only deal with the content, but also with your colleagues. Like all other adults, they have prejudices and prejudices, and these prejudices can shape their perceptions, inclinations, and behaviors. It is not your responsibility to change that. Your responsibility is to be the best version of yourself and to use the adults in the building to learn what that means to you.

Value yourself

Your language, your culture, your skin color, and your ancestry interweave to create you. You don’t have to imitate another to find solace. Being yourself is enough.


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