This Is Me: Being Modern, My Way

Farah Salam strives for succes while respecting tradition

By on February 6, 2013
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Name: Farah Salam
Age: 20
Hometown: Wallingford, Conn
Major: Political Science and Psychology

Farah Salam puts the key in the ignition, ready to start another day. She gets to school and walks along the Quad seeing some students quickly look and then look away. Her planner and to-do list are jam-packed as she runs from class, to work, to home, and then back to class, and maybe even a meeting. Her headscarf may make passersby stare or stereotype, but her ambitions surpass any assumptions being made.

“I think I established I don’t want to do the typical things,” said Salam, 20, a political science and psychology double major, explaining that every South Asian parent wants their kids to be lawyers, doctors or engineers.

Madeline Hardy | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Junior Farah Salam balances being an American college student and being part of the Muslim community.

However, her future isn’t as planned as her parents would like. She’s in the midst of the process every college kid goes through: the indecisive overwhelmed stage, trying to choose one of many professions. For Salam, her heart lies somewhere amongst political campaigning, foreign policy and psychology.

She was born and raised in Wallingford, Conn., lives in a dual-family house with her parents, brother and grandmother on the first floor, and upstairs are her aunt, uncle and cousins, who visit every night.

“We’re a big fat South Asian family,” Salam said. “It’s like ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding,’ [but] my family’s not Greek; we’re from Bangladesh.”

Although she loves her culture–especially the food–the specific family traditions play a large role in her everyday life, facing a daily conflict between her American life and Bangladeshi life, trying to find the balance.

Salam is a commuter, and although she chose Quinnipiac based on its beauty and scholarship offer, she uses the close proximity to make sure she stops home to “tidy up,” and check on her grandmother so she eats lunch and takes her medicine, and is home by 9 p.m. per her parents’ rule.

In addition to being a double major, she’s president of the Muslim Student Association and Quixotic, QU’s literature club, a member of the South Asian Society, and a tutor for America Reads in New Haven.

Nida Anwar, Salam’s friend from the South Asian Society and Muslim Student Association, admires Salam’s ability to balance her busy schedule.

“It gets hectic for her, but at the end of the day, she’s able to handle it,” said Anwar, who also shares similar family values and responsibilities with Salam. “I don’t think a lot of people would be able to accomplish that.”

But what seems like an involved student to Anwar and to the everyday collegiate, to Salam’s family, she’s unique and almost outcasted, mentioning that even though they support her efforts to be successful, she can hear her aunts and uncles saying ,“Oh my God, this girl is so American.”

“I want the best of both worlds, and I am an American first culture-wise,” Salam said. “I guess it’s more a matter of showing them being American is not that bad, whereas being Bangladeshi is not that bad either.”

Although she describes her family’s culture as “ever-evolving,” finding the balance between being American and Bangladeshi hasn’t been easy.

The self-proclaimed “over-achiever” has found her South Asian friends, like Anwar, at Quinnipiac, and is content with the ways she shows off her Bangladeshi culture, including the most obvious accessory, and maybe most controversial, hijab, or her headscarf.

“I like wearing my scarf,” she stated with confidence. “Don’t tell me I’m oppressed.”

Salam has battled with this choice, like many Muslim women, since Sept. 11, 2001.

“A year after 9/11, I wore it for two weeks in the fifth grade and my teacher told me to take off because she feared for my safety,” Salam said, remembering her naive 9-year-old mindset was, “people think Muslims are bad, so let me show them that Muslims are good!”

Salam also remembered a stink bomb being put in her friend’s backpack at school for sporting her culture’s most recognized clothing.

Salam has gone back and forth wearing her headscarf throughout the years. Now she understands her teacher’s motives and today stands strong in what she believes in.

“For me I want to cover myself, the way I want to cover myself,” she explained.

A hijab is traditionally worn a certain way, however Salam wears it her own way and is one of the few females in her family that actually chooses to wear it everyday, not just on specific occasions.

“If I take it off, I take it off. That’s why I keep it loose so it has that ambiguity. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, people change, thoughts and ideas change so I might want to go for a more hijab style or eventually take it off but I don’t want to limit myself in terms of choices,” she said.

Anwar chooses not to wear a scarf, but also understands why Salam does, knowing there’s a lot more to her than “besides what’s on the outside,” she said.

When Salam graduated high school, she decided she was going to to wear the headscarf when she started college. She felt nervous at first, but it has since become part of her identity.

“I also joke around saying my wearing of scarf does not validate or invalidate me as a Muslim girl because I’m still Muslim and you can’t say anything otherwise,” she said.

But showing off her culture does indeed have its repercussions, from people asking what she’s hiding “in there,” to the questions she receives about her seemingly mysterious lifestyle. “Now I just laugh because I understand that people don’t understand,” Salam said. “It’s the media that portrays it as a negative thing.”

Still, Salam lives her life the way that she wants to, fully embracing everything. Coming to Quinnipiac, she never imagined her world being opened up as much as it has been, being presented with endless opportunities and leadership experiences.

Tutoring for America Reads has made her think of becoming a teacher. Interning and campaigning for Connecticut congresswoman Elizabeth Esty has made her want to go into politics. The Muslim Student Association and South Asian Society keep her grounded, remembering where her family comes from.

“If she puts her mind to it, there’s no stopping her,” said Nicki Gallagher, a QU Seminar professor. “There’s got to be a really bright future for someone with her drive and passion.”

Gallagher met Salam while working on a diversity initiative at Quinnipiac and the two got to talking.

“I was just so intrigued by her and her life story, and what’s interesting to me is that she doesn’t see what she does,” Gallagher said, claiming that Salam is very modest and conservative in conversation.

From a similar family background Gallagher understands the importance of family and what parents want and the conflict that comes along with living the life you want.

“They don’t really get it because they’re just looking at the overall that she’s getting an education, but she is doing a tremendous amount here on campus,” Gallagher said, commending her for her effort to balance her life at home and life at school.

Salam is definitely looking for a greater future beyond Quinnipiac and beyond Connecticut. She’s still looking for the middle ground between her two cultures, satisfying her overlapping lives, but in the end, she’s determined to do what she wants.

Her next move might be grad school in Boston or New York, and maybe she’ll be off to Washington, D.C. to become a member in the House of Representatives. With still maintaining her family’s respect and values, her future lies in what she feels is right for her.

“My family thinks I have my head in the clouds, and I might but it’s my head, I’ll put it wherever I want,” Salam said.

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About Christine Burroni

Arts & Life Editor
Email: artslife@quchronicle.com
Twitter: @ChristineBurr
Hometown: Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
Year: 2013
Major: Print journalism
Hometown: Writer for a high end magazine