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Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.

 

Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.

 

The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.

 

Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017