Patricia Fernández is  from Miami, Florida and lived in North Carolina for about 10 years. She loves learning about other cultures and picking up on languages. She is currently interning with MALA for the Fall 2016 semester.

 

My name is Patricia Fernandez, and I am a recent high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I plan on utilizing my gap year as not only time to work and save money for college, but time to truly explore my passions and contribute to something big. Storytelling has always been a passion of mine, and I believe in the power of individual stories. “Muslim American Journeys” is a program that exemplifies how important a single story can be. By partaking in this internship, I will be supporting a great cause to collect, conserve, and share a part of the human experience. This internship is important to me because MALA’s message is important; listening to the experiences of Muslim-Americans not only empowers a population that faces severe prejudice, but it helps to eliminate the prejudice present in our society.

I was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban-American parents. I have five siblings, most of them older than me. I spent most of my early childhood in a sort of echo-chamber of the Cuban culture; I went to a catholic school with a majority Cuban-American population and didn’t get to meet a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds. When I moved to North Carolina when I was seven, I encountered a much different culture and way of life. Everyone seemed more reserved in general, it wasn’t acceptable to be late all the time, and people didn’t randomly switch from English to Spanish mid-sentence anymore. These changes were hard to understand at first, but by diversifying my surroundings and social circles I had learned so much more about myself and the world around me than if I had continued to live in Miami.

I spent most of my childhood reading books and exploring my surroundings. On some days, I could go home after school and read for five to six hours straight. I loved reading stories and learning about different places in the world, and meeting new characters every day. My love for reading developed into a passion for learning about the world, learning foreign languages, and meeting people from all different kinds of backgrounds. At my high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, I joined the International Club and took a Global Studies elective to learn more about different parts of the world.

One day in my Global Studies class, we had a Muslim teacher come in and talk about his experiences with prejudice. Prejudice and hate crimes are things that I always heard about on the news, but I, a fairly white-looking Hispanic Catholic, had never really experienced that personally. The teacher told us of his wife, born and raised in the United States, who was still treated differently just for wearing a hijab. He also told us about his friends in Chapel Hill who were ruthlessly murdered. They were young college students, and they even went to the same high school as me.

I believe in the power of stories to change people, because that story changed me. Every person you see on the news, every senseless murder announced; those were real people. They were people with a life story, with thousands of unique experiences that we will never know of. That’s why it’s important to share stories, even the ones we don’t want to hear about. This is the real world. This is what’s happening in the United States of America. Innocent people and bright young minds are dying due to prejudice and ignorance. And stories cure ignorance.

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