As I unfolded on the cold, hard ground behind the gym bleachers with tears rolling down my eyes, I sensed that I didn’t belong.
I don’t need to confine myself to my ethnicity because I’m my own person.
Earlier that day, I approached the commons on my first day at West Fargo High School, where hundreds of students milled around. Their conversations and laughter bounced off the walls. I noticed a group of Somali students sitting at a table. I plopped down, beginning to introduce myself, but got a chilly reception.
I noticed my American-style clothes stood out next to their traditional Somali clothing. At first the conversation was light, but they began to bombard me with uneasy questions: “Why are you wearing pants?” “Where were you born?” “What tribe are you from?” It felt more like a test. I guess I didn’t pass.
I didn’t expect this reception from people of the same ethnic background. As a first-generation Somali-American, I felt I had something to prove to my family, other Somalis and “real” Americans. I was stuck between cultures; two worlds that were so different.
My mom was born in Somalia and fled in her 30s during the civil war. My father was also born in Somalia but immigrated before my mom, assimilating himself. When they married, they started to notice differences and eventually divorced. As I aged, I wanted my dad around more because he could understand where I came from, but it never happened.
As a kid I relocated often, bouncing from state to state, because my mom was a single parent. I despised it because I couldn’t build friendships and connections like I imagined. I lacked control of anything in my life, but I never complained.
When I moved to West Fargo, North Dakota, at 16, I was bouncing with excitement. New opportunities, friends and adventure awaited. However, I was naive and hopeful.
My first class was English, which was not my strong suit. Regardless, I was ready and determined to go above and beyond. When I walked into class, I sat down near a group of people, hoping to make new friends.
I looked to my right and said, “Hi, my name is Duniyo, but you can call me Duni.” As I kept introducing myself, I was repeatedly ignored.
It wasn’t only students. The teacher skipped over me as well. She forgot to assign me a seat. I finally spoke in a shaky, crippling voice, “Excuse me, miss, I don’t have a seat.” She gave me an annoyed look. “You may have a seat over there,” she said, resuming the lesson with no apology.
As I moved to the corner of the room, I felt isolated. I eventually stopped attending that class because the teacher made me feel uncomfortable. It might not have been my first time moving, but it was the first time experiencing this alienation I couldn’t control.
In the end, I told my mom that this school wasn’t the best fit for me. We left the town in search of an environment where I could grow and flourish.
Despite despising relocating when I was younger, I’ve realized that moving around helped me mature because I had to deal with different groups of people and learn to not take offense to the smallest of words.
At my new school in Hopkins, Minnesota, I experienced some drama, but I soon realized people approach things from different perspectives. That you’re supposed to love everyone—no matter their background. I’ve learned to think differently than a lot of my peers, holding myself to a higher standard mentally and emotionally.
Now, I am comfortable with myself and my background. I don’t need to cry behind the bleachers or change to fit in. I don’t need to confine myself to my ethnicity because I’m my own person. Yes, some influences come from Somali culture and others from American. But, I’m taking the good parts from both, mixing them up and having it be my own.