The Last Call: Bringing home to Macalester: finding one’s identity


Graphic by Katherine Irving ’22 and Amanda Wong ’23.

Shireen Zaineb, Columnist

Yesterday, my mother texted asking me if I had been doing my salaat, the five daily prayers that many Muslims do at certain times of the day. The last time we spoke on the phone, she told me she was worried about my sisters and I associating ourselves with American identities and values, leaving behind the Pakistani values we’d been raised with from the moment we were born. I listened quietly on the other end of the phone, occasionally expressing my disagreement, but not entirely aware of how to assure her or myself. We were at a standstill.

During our time in the United States, my family has created microcosms of the world they’d left — Geo TV played the Pakistani news every evening, my mother would make pulao and gobi and baingan for dinner. We had seven prayer rugs spread out in our basement, which we’d descend to throughout the day and evening.

When I left home for college, I felt a rupture between the home my parents had so carefully curated for me and my siblings, and the life I wanted to create for myself. In a lot of ways, these two realms overlapped: I wanted to make my parents proud, I wanted to take care of my younger siblings, I wanted to do well in school, I wanted to be happier. But there were parts of Macalester that didn’t align with my parents’ view of a life for me, like the fact that there was a smaller South Asian community than what they had in mind. Throughout my first year,  I tried to convince myself and my family that I was holding onto my core, their core, of values, by telling them about my involvement with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and my learning to cook my mother’s recipes.

But that was about all I had — my parents didn’t know much about my day-to-day life. Instead, they received selective narrations of my weekends. They didn’t know that I’d fallen in love or changed my wardrobe drastically. I censored major parts of my life for their sake. Even in writing this, I feel the urge to self-censor in the unlikely case that they’d read this. Today, I turned in a poem for a writing class that I ensured could never leave the classroom because it was about parts of myself that I can never share outside of campus.

I’m at the beginning of my senior year at Macalester now, and while I often feel a lack of belonging here too, I’m safe in a few significant ways — in my MSA community, among my friends, and with professors who have known me since I began college. I’ve melded together different belief and value systems that fit me as an individual that I know would immediately be condemned by my communities outside of here. In a sense, my identity fundamentally distances me from my parents’ world and the world I’m in now. But as I’m thinking about my younger sisters growing older in the U.S, and about the fully-formed self I feel I need to have ready by graduation, I’m trying to understand more clearly what’s important and meaningful to me out of the vast variety of values and beliefs from people I love that I’ve made a part of myself. In the process of forming and challenging our identities, we tie ourselves to people and communities outside of ourselves. This is important. But I’m learning to honor those connections, and then brace myself to choose in whatever ways I’m privileged to choose who I want to be.