Malala and Me

It is sad to think that a day as important as International Day of the Girl (IDG) was only created last year in 2012. There are women around the world who fight for equality like Malala Yousafzai and are not recognized for their strength.

Observing IDG is a way for all girls and women to collectively come together to mark the struggles that they endure. This year, I celebrated IDG with my feminism class taught by our inspirational Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez. We started our celebration with an assembly, which we presented to our entire school, sharing all of our stories of how race, class, and gender have affected our lives. It was so rewarding to be on a stage with so many talented young men and women to hear that their struggles. Here is my story that I shared with the school. I hope that you will hear a little bit of your story in mine:

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Here is my feminism class at the start of our assembly for International Day of the Girl 2013 (photo credit: Lexie Clinton).

Spanish was my first language; I don’t have an accent since I went to grade school in New York and classes were taught in English. I lived in a bilingual home with a Spanish-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. I am not confronted as a tourist when I go to Spain because I look the part and play it well.

I am not American enough to stand out in Spain and I am not Spanish enough to stand out in America. Although this is a gift, it is also a curse. I feel that I have almost no fixed cultural ground beneath me, no place, to which I can anchor myself. I am constantly in limbo.

I am American, but I am also Catalan and Spanish; however, I feel that America has no real culture that I can hold on to. My only cultural link is within my family. My family makes me Catalan and Spanish and I love it, but I have no fixed identity because I didn’t exactly grow up with one fixed culture.

Another important part of my identity has to do with my recent illness, during which I lost all cognitive function, I was not certain of what I was experiencing. Being a teenager is always difficult, but to be a teenager who is catatonic and relies on others is probably one of the biggest challenges I have faced.

To lose myself in an alternate reality, filled with eclectic emotion and then, suddenly to return, recalling that I was once independent, but be unable to fulfill it; that expectation of being the same person is the most splitting feeling.

I was at a disadvantage in life and still am. I have forgotten many memories that I have been told I will never remember. That void will always be a mystery to me and I will carry it with me forever. The illness that changed me will always be inside me and to a certain extent, I will always live in fear that it will return.

It is an illness unknown to most; but it is a horror to anyone who experiences it. It takes your mind and your speech and distorts your hearing and sight. It will not let you eat or sleep. It will play with your heart just for fun, and maybe, it will make it stop.

Your arms and legs will not be your own; they belong to the illness, an evil tyrant with no consideration of you. I will introduce you to this tyrant: her name is Anti NMDA Receptor Encephalitis and she is my best friend and my worst enemy. I hate her for what she did, but love her for what she made me.

I know what it is like to be disabled and to fight for my life: she taught me that struggle. The illness did not literally hold power over me but as it is uncontrollable, it held power over my mind and my body. I am thankful to have survived this roller-coaster ride and I hope to reach out to other survivors in the future so they know they are not alone.

I overthrew the tyrant but I did not kill her. Killing her would make me a tyrant as well. I would much rather learn from her mistakes in hopes that one day I can become a respected leader, a leader in activism and all aspects of my life.

Although my story and Malala’s are very different, our experiences have driven us to create change and have given us a greater appreciation of life. Malala is an inspiration to me. I never realized how important education was until I had to relearn how to read and write; because of my background and my class I had the resources that gave me a full recovery.

I am so grateful for the undivided attention that was given to me. But to think that millions of children around the world are left illiterate as I was is devastating. Watching her speech at the UN this past summer makes me more passionate to share her wisdom.

As she says, “One child. One teacher. One book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

Her wisdom is evident in her words and her ability to address all is outstanding. Her goal has expanded and there is no trace of disdain in her words. I aspire to live with the amount of love she holds within her. She is my role model and she should be a role model to all girls and women worldwide.

17 thoughts on “Malala and Me

  1. I really like how you connect Malala’s experience to your own. It is very powerful how personally you associated the experience that has driven you to “create change” and to a greater appreciation of life. In many ways your stories are similar and in many ways it made you realize how devastating it is to be illiterate or uneducated when you are without the proper care and resources.

  2. I could not agree more with the statement that opened up this piece. I also cannot believe that International Day of the Girl was just created a couple of years ago. I felt that your connection to Malala was very powerful and I appreciated your courage to share your own story.

  3. Mia, I found it really interesting when you said “America has no real culture that I can hold on to.” I think this statement is so true. I completely agree and also find myself searching for “real culture” in other parts of my life.

    When you talked about your illness I found it surprising when you said that your illness was your best friend and your worst enemy. I understand how your illness would be your enemy but I didn’t understand at first why she was also your best friend. I realize now that your illness has made you so strong and it makes you you! When you compared your experience with Malala’s the whole piece really came together. Yes your stories are different but I love how you said, ” our experiences have driven us to create change and have given us a greater appreciation of life.”

  4. Seeing a portion of your intersectionality essay is moving and inspiring. I can relate to you when you mentioned not “fitting in” in either the Spanish community nor the American culture. I am also stuck between my Haitian culture and American traditions. However, I feel we have created a culture of our own. Even though we don’t exactly “fit in” with our cultures, we have blended them, creating the best of both!

  5. I could not agree more with some of the points you have made in this post. Although I have not had to fight for my life, I can see how strong it has made you, and I love how you have been able to translate this experience into our Feminism class. Along with this, I also believe that I am in a constant limbo between both my mothers Brazilian culture, and my fathers American culture. Although I sometimes do not choose to identify as simply one of the two cultures, I have also come to realize that I have the best of both worlds.

  6. I really enjoyed hearing your intersectionality piece at the assembly and reading it again here. You stated “I feel that I have almost no fixed cultural ground beneath me, no place, to which I can anchor myself. I am constantly in limbo.” I feel very similarly. As I was adopted from China as an infant, I feel like I am also “in limbo,” as it is difficult to find a culture. I feel like I have been so Americanized , and I barely know anything about China or Chinese culture. In society, I feel like the way that we look on the outside is the only thing taken into consideration and our actual culture is not taken into account. It is crucial to continue sharing our backgrounds and history, so we can try to find others that can relate to our stories and our cultural identities. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your identity with us!

  7. Your story of your division among cultures and lack of sense of belonging is very interesting. It’s something that I’m, in part, experiencing, yet I’ve never felt such a strong pull to it. I’d definitely like to hear more about it! I think it’s essential for you to find a corner, among the traits of these cultures that you care about the most; defining them may be a process of self-definition.
    You’re identifying two main events in this piece: your loss of self in two different circumstances. Through your writing, though, I see that you’ve managed to maintain a very strong sense of identity, especially as you make a connection with Malala and talk about the meaning that your illness has now for you: I find it very inspiring. I am very fascinated by the way you interpreted your closeness to her; it’s wonderful to see such a great appreciation of life through your models.

  8. Mia,
    I like how in your intersectionality piece, you talk about how you feel as if “America has no real culture to hold on to” because it’s one big melting pot. As a result, you have to hold on to your Spanish and Catalan culture, but because they’re so different, you’re always in limbo, and I can relate to this because of my West Indian culture clashing with my Westernized lifestyle.
    I also really like how you embrace your illness because it’s what has made you today, and the way you connect to Malala through this is very powerful.

  9. When you say “I am not American enough to stand out in Spain and I am not Spanish enough to stand out in America,” I loved this line because it showed how you are stuck between two cultures. For me it is the opposite, I am not latina enough to stand out in Dominican Republic and I am latina enough to stand out in America. I want to hear more about bring these two cultures together. I love how you talk about your illness and I love how you were brave enough to talk about it. I am glad you have learned to appreciate all the things that are apart of your life and identity.

  10. “It is an illness unknown to most; but it is a horror to anyone who experiences it. It takes your mind and your speech and distorts your hearing and sight. It will not let you eat or sleep. It will play with your heart just for fun, and maybe, it will make it stop”. This was very hard for me to read. I can’t imagine having to live with this condition. But you’re a strong girl and you survived it. I think it’s amazing to see how going through a tough situation such as this has allowed you to open your eyes and your mind to things you have never thought about before. Life is indeed a beautiful thing and my heart goes out to the girls who aren’t able to live it to their full potential. Something’s got to change.

  11. I think it was already brave of you to stand up and tell your story in front of our whole school and now it is even more brave of you to share it on the web. I find it so interesting where you explain your illness and say you “love her for what she mad [you].” Clearly, it had a huge influence on your life in more than just the obvious ways.

  12. Mia, I really appreciated your description of your illness as “my best friend and my worst enemy. I hate her for what she did, but love her for what she made me.” From experience, I can imagine that realizing your privileged background is what allowed you to make a full recovery, and that many people do not have the same resources, was extremely difficult. I admire that instead of making you hateful or angry, your illness has given you a greater appreciation for life and a desire to “reach out to other survivors in the future so they know they are not alone”. I also liked how you related your own experiences to Malala’s, and how both of your “experiences have driven us to create change”

  13. I really love the connections and contrast you make in this post not just with your experience with different cultures but with different parts of your illness as well. I admire how you are very open about those sides of your illness because if there is anything that is really difficult to cop with its having contrasting opinions about something about yourself. I think that your realization of this is very powerful because some people live their whole lives without seeing it but you have. In relationship with how that connects to Malala I think you are spot on and really have a great PERSPECTIVE on that particular viewpoint.

  14. Mia, I really enjoy how personal and inspiring your piece is, and happy to hear more of your intersectionality essay. I was shocked when you said that your illness was also your best friend. But like Malala, your hardships gave you strength, a new outlook on life, and a motivation to speak up. I am so devastated that you had to go through such a thing as your illness, but your resilience is so inspiring to me! Wonderful piece and I can’t wait to hear more.

  15. “I am not American enough to stand out in Spain and I am not Spanish enough to stand out in America. ” I absolutely love this line! I wish I was able to say the same! I also love how your piece expresses the “gifts” and “curses” of your life. Your exploration of the freedoms and oppressions of your life is thrilling because you’re tackling a layer of intersectionality that is rich and complex.

  16. I found it absolutely amazing that you shared your story. I think it also takes a lot of courage to acknowledge your “gifts” and “curses”, a lot of the time without a deeper reflection of self, those things go unnoticed. I am truly proud and amazed with you and your courage.

  17. Mia, I really am inspired by your courage to A. share your story, and B. to go through what you went through and grow stronger. I think an important aspect your story and to feminism in general is that people judge and assume because they haven’t been put in the situation. Until you are trapped under a physical illness and a societal illness of oppression you do not fully understand what it means to have privilege. People who are able in their position to speak up and have courage are the people who inspire me most.

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