Elishah Virani: Anything Can Happen. Anything Can Be.

In her heartfelt and poignant narrative, Elishah shares her personal journey with her identity, having grown up in America and moving back to Pakistan at the age of 10. These experiences ultimately helped strengthen her stance for advocacy, particularly for women surviving domestic violence. She is a student at Loyola University Chicago, and is currently interning with MALA for the Fall 2016 semester. 


“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”Shel Silverstein

My life has always revolved around books for as long as I can remember. They allowed me to be anything I wanted to be – a princess, a spy, a basketball player – there were no limits. I moved a lot while growing up, but the one thing that remained constant was that I always had a book in my hands. It is probably because of this that I like to look at my own life as a story, divided into chapters, each one significant in its own way, but a story that isn’t yet complete. A story that still has a long way to go, but a lot to say nonetheless – My story.
I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but moved to America with my parents and two older siblings when I was only six months old. I grew up speaking English, living far away from any mosques, and celebrating occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving with all my classmates, so it was no surprise that I was struggling with my cultural identity. To make things even more difficult, when I turned 10, my parents told me that I had to move back to Pakistan with them because my grandpa there was unwell. My brother and sister were in college by then, so I had to go alone with my parents and it didn’t seem fair to me at all. When I finally got there, it seemed like a completely different world. Where were all my favorite restaurants? Why were there so many palm trees? Why didn’t anyone speak English?


A place that should have felt like an extension of myself felt strange and uncomfortable. I realized immediately that I didn’t fit in, but instead of crying and complaining about it, I figured I should adopt the same attitude that I did with my books – that I can be anyone and anything I wanted to be. So from then, I spent two hours every day learning to read, write, and speak Urdu and eventually became fluent in it in two short months. I went to a private school and took the same classes as everyone else in my grade, even though I had no background on the subjects or any understanding of how the Cambridge system works, for that matter.

I spent five years in Pakistan before I moved back to Illinois and I wouldn’t give those years up for the world. I grew so much as an individual in terms of my personal beliefs, my cultural awareness, and my passion for social justice while in Pakistan, but most importantly, I formed amazing relationships with strong-willed individuals that I feel so blessed to still have in my life. I owe my current career goals and passions to Pakistan and the important lessons that I had learned during my time there. I am currently a senior at Loyola University Chicago studying Criminal Justice with a minor in English and I hope to be an advocate for survivors of domestic violence in the South Asian American community. I’ve worked with many organizations on and off campus to promote this cause and to move in the direction of making a change.


I’ve completed 40-hour domestic violence training with Apna Ghar, Inc. in Chicago and I hope to work towards becoming an Illinois Certified Domestic Violence Professional (ICDVP). I’ve interned with the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network and during my free time, I like to teach English to members of the South Asian and other minority communities in and around the Rogers Park area. I’m so excited to begin working with the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) under the same cause and connect with other individuals who share my passion. Together, we can empower members of our community and help them write their own stories and become anyone they want to be.

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