The world has changed so much in the past twelve months. It feels as if we are moving at warp speed toward a very uncertain, probably not very bright, future. If we feel this way as adults, what must it feel like for someone still growing?
We wanted to take a kind of survey, an understanding of the state of the girl in America in 2017. What does it mean to be at the start of your life, your career, to be young and ambitious and female, right now? We live in a world where it seems anything is possible and also where it feels as though there are powerful forces working very hard to make sure that statement isn't true for everyone. But when interviewing the girls below, Taghreed Alkinani and Asmara, we found something entirely different and new. Both these girls are accomplishing remarkable things.
Asmara goes to high school in Atlanta, and Kaitlyn first found out about her through a rap she wrote and performed for her class about Trayvon Martin. She wrote about the pain and the questioning that many of us felt during that moment. At the time Kaitlyn found out about Asmara, she worked for Flocabulary, an education company that partnered with Asmara's school. At Flocabulary, everyone was impressed by Asmara's eloquence and self-possession. Asmara's rap was a remarkable piece of writing, a brave performance. She, in part, inspired us to think that this State of the Girl project was even possible.
Supriya interviewed Taghreed, who was born in Baghdad in 1996 and has witnessed war her whole life. Her family's business provided, among other things, Arabic translation services for English-speaking clients, including members of the U.S. military. In 2006, her father's shop was shot up and he was kidnapped for one day. The family, fearing for their lives, abandoned their house and moved into hiding. Eventually, they traveled to Jordan where they lived as refugees. Taghreed's parents sacrificed comfort and used what little savings they had left to send her and her siblings to school.
The International Rescue Committee gave Taghreed a scholarship to Tesseract School in 2010 and later nominated her for a scholarship in Arizona to attend a highly ranked private school. There, Taghreed excelled, and eventually she transferred to Arizona State University. She is currently studying biochemistry and is working at an optometrist's office, with plans to go to the Midwestern School of Optometry.
Both these girls are moving forward with a sense of purpose, sure that a better future to work in is possible. Pablo Neruda once wrote, "You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming." Talking with these young women, we're excited for the world to come.
Kaitlyn Greenidge: What's your favorite thing that you've written or created this year?
Asmara: The rap I wrote for our school's project with Flocabulary. I wanted to tell the story of Trayvon Martin. I feel like this is my favorite piece I've wrote so far.
KG: How did you find the inspiration to write this piece?
A: I remember my mom telling me and my brother to come downstairs when the trial happened. I remember that. He inspired me, so I wanted to write a rap about him.
KG: What do you do when you get stuck writing something?
A: When I write, I usually just write anything, whatever comes to mind. If it doesn't make sense, I just keep writing, keep writing, until after it's all finished, and I correct my mistakes.
KG: What helped you to finish your Trayvon rap?
A: My mom helped me finish it. We actually watched a couple documentaries. I think [what helps me to work is to] write what you feel, write what you say, and write how this affects you, and how this inspires you.
KG: What does it feel like to perform something that you've written?
A: It's very scary, I feel, because you don't know what the reaction of the audience will be. It's also a proud moment, because when you see their faces light up, it makes you feel good inside.
KG: Yeah, I hear that. I'm a writer, too, and I always hate having to read my work out loud, but it always feels really great once you've done it. Once it's over.
If you could pick one person to listen to what you wrote, who would it be?
A: Barack Obama.
A: I think he did so much for America.
KG: What would you hope he would say or do in reaction to your piece?
A: I hope he'd give me a high-five, or hug me and tell me, "You did so good." He's just like, "Keep doing what you're doing."
KG: Yeah. I wish he would say the same thing to me. What three words would you use to describe the past year?
A: Crazy, different, and weird.
KG: I like those word choices. What do you most look forward to?
A: I look forward to growing up, not growing up but working, trying to make a better life for ourselves.
KG: What are you going to be eager to leave behind as you grow?
A: I'm going to be eager to leave behind the ninth-grade projects.
KG: What's the ninth-grade project?
A: You just have to make a poster and write a whole bunch of papers. You have to be on point, perfect.
KG: What's yours going to be about?
A: Me and my partner did each of ours about victim blaming.
What we're doing is, we're researching different cases where the victim was blamed. We're putting the tweets that they received on the poster, we're putting why it started, why are they getting bullied. We're researching why do people blame the victim.
KG: What inspired you guys to pick that for your project?
A: I feel like we picked one thing we both can relate to and one thing that could happen to anybody.
KG: What scares you the most about the present day?
A: I'm really scared about the president, because he's just like, "Black people gone so far, get so much fights." I'm just scared he might lose it.
KG: What excites you the most about this year?
A: I'm going to be fifteen, so I think my mom's going to let me do more things, like go out, probably for part of some protests. I wanted to be part of protests, but my mom's like, "You're too young. Just wait till you're fifteen." I want to be able to go experience different things.
KG: What's one thing you would change about being a girl?
A: I don't think there is anything I would change about being a girl. I love being a girl.
KG: Then what's a good thing about being a girl?
A: You can do different things. It's in our nature to care, so I think that's the best thing. You can always find a way to care about someone, or look at the positive.
Supriya Venkatesan: What three words would you use to describe the last year?
Taghreed Alkinani: Traumatizing, unpredictable, fortunate.
SV: What do you most look forward to?
TA: Getting my fall-2018 acceptance letters to optometry schools. As a refugee, it is a true accomplishment to be able to push through the storm and be able to survive and strive to reach those goals that once were impossible. Living in a war zone as a child continues to give me nightmares: repeated scenes of death, which also repeat during the day. There were also the forced relocations of home and school, and limitless threats of terror targeting those in and around my family. I very much look forward to stepping into my goal, and, after training, to be able to let patients see the life they deserve.
SV:What scares you the most?
TA: Not being able to obtain help. When I don't know where, how, when, why, and what to do, I'm no longer able to function. The International Rescue Committee gave me an opportunity to be with my family, be momentarily safe, have food, and, most importantly, allowed me to be educated. IRC gave me education when the political system in Jordan stopped allowing Iraqi refugees from attending public schools. Again, when I came to the U.S., I was offered a full-ride scholarship to a private school that cultivated my critical thinking and allowed me the opportunity to travel to China, Italy, and Greece.
SV: What excites you the most?
TA: Learning about the optical science in an international perspective. I'm very excited to be attending optometry schools that will allow me the opportunity to expand my knowledge of retinal science. What makes me even more excited is being able to perform globally. Since I never had a secure home, adjusting for me is a habit, and therefore I want to be able to practice on an international basis. If I'm able to travel globally, I want to contribute to curing sight diseases globally. The idea of not being able to travel — being trapped — is suffocating.
SV: What's something you feel that you are good at?
TA: Bringing people together. I can't survive without people, and in order for me to live, I rely on uniting. Regardless of the situation, there is always room. I gained this strength through my contribution to the IRC. The leaders in that organization have changed my life because of their involvement and inclusiveness in the community. Through their volunteering programs, I was able to meet other refugees and grow with them, regardless of their language, race, gender, religion, or orientation.
SV: What's a good thing about being a girl?
TA: I'm not sure what research out there says, but I truly think girls have this alternate power that gives them self-worth and allows them to have great strength. Not physical strength, or dominance; it's actually their ability to use their self-knowledge and convey their opinion, style, character, speech, and whatever it may be. It's not the type of power over someone else. The power of self-knowledge allows women to persuade, energize, and influence.
SV: What's one thing you would change about being a girl?
TA: Limitations and stereotypes.
SV: I'd love to hear more about your adjustment to the U.S. as a Muslim woman.
TA: It is hard, and it continues to be hard. Since my parents' experience in Iraq is not accounted for, in employment they had to start over for the fifth or maybe sixth time in their lives to build their résumé, cover letter, and all that good stuff. All is always in progress. Before my junior year of high school, we reached a point where it was just not enough to survive, and so I started working as a babysitter, and then later at JW Marriott, working in the front office and food service. Ever since then, I have developed great time-management skills that I'm impressed with. I worked full-time and went to school full-time from junior year of high school through junior year of college. As I continue to cultivate myself, it makes me sad not to have been able to wear the hijab yet. I'm scared and waiting for that one day, to be able to practice fully.
SV: How do you feel about the current political climate?
TA: Honestly, right now, I'm too scared to answer this question.
SV: Does it affect you or your family in any way?
TA: Yes. Several of my family members have green cards, and some don't. Having authorization to live in the U.S. is my parents' biggest success. Many people don't realize how difficult it was to be able to live through the war and continue to live in a foreign country with no base, family, or home. The IRC is honestly the mother of the help refugees have received, and I continue to try to give back to them, but it's never enough. There is always room for refugees. We must lend a hand, because if we don't, survival is not possible.
These interviews have been condensed and edited.
Supriya Venkatesan is a freelance writer based in Seattle. @supriya_venk
Kaitlyn Greenidge is a contributing writer for Lenny Letter. Her novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman is currently available everywhere. @surlybassey