The Things They Carry: What Muslim YA Needs
High school Junior, Khalil, carries letters from a girl named Ayesha. They aren’t love letters, not exactly. But Khalil hopes, so he carries them, perfectly folded in the bottom of his backpack. Some late afternoons, as he sits on his porch, drinking his mother’s iced tea, he takes them out and reads them in the fading light of the magic hour. Sixteen-year-old Hina carries her hunger, lightly. It’s almost time to break her fast and she imagines her mother’s samosas and tamarind chutney and the perfect pink-milky coolness of Faluda slaking her parched throat. Zainab carries her poems in her head and her wishes that her parents will be happy that she wants to study English at college and not medicine. The sight of blood makes her woozy, but she still holds the burden of her parents’ dreams on her shoulders. Noah carries a smile so charming, it melts all the hearts. And that’s why he is the Homecoming King.
The things they carry are often a function of necessity. Sumaya carries her defenses, all of them, on her sleeve. So that every time she is asked, “Why does Islam hate the West?” She is armed with a smirk and a smart answer. Adam schleps the echoing taunts of the kids on playground, “Rag Head, Rag Head, Rag Head.” On his last trip to the airport, he was stopped by TSA for a “random” search and was asked what country he was from. He’s from America. And his passport says so. Ingrid carries her hijab, tucked behind her ears and knotted at the base of her neck. She rocks a new one, daily, coordinated with her outfit. Kamal carries his brother’s dog tags around his neck. On Memorial Day, he and his family visit his brother’s grave at Arlington. The one with the crescent.
They carry the emotional baggage of being The Other. They carry the burden of America’s fear and hate. They carry the lightness and beauty of youth and hope and dreams and the infinite possibilities of a nation that endeavors to be a more perfect union.
Let them carry books that are mirrors. And doors. And windows.
Stories of Muslim kids that fall in love and fight with their parents about college. Stories where they discover their identities. Their orientation. Stories where they try out for the basketball team. And represent their country in the Olympics. And fence. In hijab. Stories where they explore planets and lead rebellions in galaxies far, far away. And are kings and queens. And can fly. Stories where they live in the projects or in mansions or in cabins in the woods. Stories where there are Muslim bad guys, who aren’t terrorists, but plain old thieves or charlatans or high school jerks. Stories where they are the love interests. Where they are loved. Where they are known. Where they are represented for all the many, many amazing things that they are.
Stories that tell the truth. Let them carry those.
Inspired by: O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.