Valeria Astudillo Cueva is originally from Ecuador and has been living in New York City for the past 5 years. She is currently studying Marketing at York College and is the Executive Director of the Student Government Association. She hopes to go to graduate school and pursue a Master’s degree in marketing as well.
This story is part of “American Muslims”, a photo series created by Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer and activist based in NYC. The project is dedicated to capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States. We will not only be sharing the images from the project, but each image will be accompanied by a personal and unique story to show our shared humanity. To read more about Valeria and the rest of the faces from “American Muslims” click here.
Who has been the most important person in your life?
First of all God is always my main source of strength, only he knows what’s best. He is the most important. On the other hand, I think the most important person in my life is myself. I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t put yourself first you won’t be able to be happy. Not to sound selfish, but you must take care of yourself in order to help others successfully! I am the person who has brought me back up when I fell down time and time again. Even though I had support from family and friends which is Alhamdulillah a blessing, I will always be the one there for me no matter what; I live with myself every day I know me more than anybody.
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
I think the happiest moment was when I saw my mom again after two years of living away from her. The moment was overwhelming and tears were flowing but it was the happiest I’ve ever been. Growing up one doesn’t realize the importance of a mother in life and I’m blessed to have mine.
The saddest moment was when I found out I had a brain tumor (benign). In this situation tears flowed as well but from anguish and sadness. I was not only worried about me and my life but how my mother and father would feel. I shared the news with my father right away and waited 2 days to share them with my mother because I didn’t want the news out or for her to worry, also she wasn’t in the country at the time.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
The biggest influence would have to be my father. I feel that we share a great bond and more than father-daughter we are two friends sharing stories and advice. He has really pushed me to be better and continues to do so every day. I think is his mission to see me thrive and his advice and experience have gotten me to where I am today.
What lessons did that person teach you?
He taught me that no matter how hard or difficult it gets, you have to be resourceful, find ways to move forward. The world keeps moving even if you stand still, so better make the best out of every opportunity and lesson.
Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
Besides God for allowing me to be alive today, I believe that the kindest is my husband Adam. This is the quality I admire in him the most. I really strive to be as kind as he is, it’s a learning process but I’ll get there InshAllah.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
One would be that if you keep reading the previous chapter in your life you’ll never be able to move on to the next; some doors need to be closed in order to open new ones. Be kind to everyone, even if they are not kind to you. Your behavior says a lot about you. Try your best not to judge those who sin differently than you.
What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory would have to be when I was about 3 years old back in Ecuador my native country. I used to go visit a doctor and family friend who lived across the street from my grandparent’s house and just sit with him on a hammock all day long. His mother was very sweet, I still know them to this day and every time we talk, these stories come up.
Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
Definitely, I used to carry around a little purse with some girls make up, I was still very little. I went to the bathroom and left my purse on the couch but when I returned it wasn’t there (my mother had moved it) and I was upset and shocked yelling “the miserable thieves took it.” Of course they were all laughing at me. Another one is that I used to spy on my great grandmothers’ sister and one day I followed her to the bathroom and she was wearing some sort of shape wear on top of her underwear but I assumed she was wearing double underwear and went out screaming to the top of my lungs that she was wearing double underwear.
What are you proudest of?
I’m proudest of the person I’ve become. I think that I’ve been through some challenges that changed my life and having that life experience is priceless. Also now I’m a “go getter” and I’m having better results at achieving things I set my mind to.
When in life have you felt most alone?
After 6 months or so after my brain surgery, I felt that I wasn’t happy. I think I got depressed for a bit, thankfully Ramadan came. I got closer to God and the Islamic practices. I took the decision of reverting in that period and it has truly been a blessing.
If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
The moment my husband said he loved me. It’s a bit cliché but that memory is one that I hold very dear.
How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
I think as a young girl I assumed that in your early 20’s you’d be a full grownup. Now at 26 I realize that there’s still some growing up to do. I think the difference from what I imagined is that the process of things takes longer and I might not be exactly where I want to be at this point in my life, but everyday I’m a step closer.
How would you like to be remembered?
This is a tough one because I could be Idealistic and say that I wish to be remembered as someone successful and inspiring, someone who made a difference and inspired change in a good way. Back to reality simply that the ones close to my heart remember me for being a good person and one that didn’t give up.