When I first heard about the Manhattan Multicultural Summer Program, I was reluctant to engage myself in a habitual activity that involved getting up early (for me, early meant any time before noon). I wasn’t sure I would be able to handle it – getting up, getting ready, getting there… All of this, coupled with the fact that I wasn’t too confident about my (limited) knowledge about the problems and tragedies of the world, made me quite anxious. What if they discussed some unheard-of disease ravaging some far-off country whose existence I was unaware of until that precise moment? What if they dissect the forces behind every acronym known to mankind; WHO, ECA, WFP – the possibilities were endless.

Basically, I delved into the program not knowing what to expect. So, with my newly enforced Taoist mentality, I decided to go for it.

The program was, by far, much different than I anticipated. The first thing I noticed as I walked into the office with my sister, fresh off of the LIRR, still with the buzz of commotion ringing in my ears, was the variety of people involved in the program. My parents were born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and although they are very liberal, modernized and quite Americanized, close relations with my own culture and not with distant nationalities has been a policy that hasn’t been enforced, but rather advocated. So, you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this motley crew. There was a Pakistani Muslim girl with a scarf wrapped intricately about her head, soon to be a sophomore at NYU. There was another Muslim girl, dressed in a casual tee and exceptionally glam short-shorts. There was an African-American graduate from NYU, a devoted Christian with a strong, ambitious drive. There was a 19-year-old from Madagascar, who spoke both Malagasy and French. And, just to add an extra something to the group, there was a calm Jewish boy from Brooklyn.

It is exactly this diversity that gave the group such power; this potent mixture that drove each of us forward. When we went places, the speakers would ask us, “Where are you guys from?” And in the room echoed, “Afghanistan. Madagascar. Nigeria. Palestine… Brooklyn.”

But with this diversity came all the baggage of taboo and stigma. Especially interesting was the dynamics between the Palestinian girl and the Jewish boy. Each attended a private school for their respective religions, and each came loaded with their own preconceived notions and stereotypes about the other. As an outsider looking in, this situation made me quite uncomfortable at first – I kept thinking, “oh no, what if he says something that will offend her? What if she just snaps and starts yelling? What if they go barking mad and throw themselves at each other and fight like there’s no tomorrow?!” But to my surprise, they didn’t got at it like mad. Some opinions were shared, quite passionately, may I add, but everyone was in one piece. Everyone was happy. And most importantly, everyone felt enlightened. I realized that that is what makes us function, what allows us to cooperate and coexist: this feeling of comfort with being who you are, no matter what, and accepting others for who they are, despite the color of their skin or which sliver of land of this good, green Earth they live on. It sounds so cliché, but it was so realistically demonstrated by each and every one of us that it really transcended into me.

For me especially, the Manhattan Multicultural Summer Program was a way to let out my real self, the one that I had kept hidden from the world all this time. I live in an area where being Muslim and coming from an Afghani background is enough to get you beat up, or else seriously ostracized from the rest of society. I felt that this was it – this was where I could shout out my name, and people wouldn’t mind all too much. I could laugh in the face of stereotype and stigma and the cruel, racist world, and shout out that I am proud, with a smirk on my face. I was able to overcome my fear of being Muslim, albeit very liberal and modern. I was able to grow. I was able to learn. I was able to stand there and say “I’m not white, but yes, I do wear Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger and Dior. I do wear tank tops and shorts and dresses. I do listen to Amy Winehouse and David Bowie and even on occasion Kanye West. Call me old fashioned, but I do think that undergarments are just that, undergarments. Yes. I am from Afghanistan. I am Muslim. And you know what? I am fabulous.” And no one judged me. No one looked away uneasily or whispered some poorly-hidden comment into someone else’s ear.

And just like that, I told them who I really was. No false façade, no preamble. Just pure, raw, volatile, dynamic, inexcusable me. And I could not have done it without seeing around me the plethora of compassionate, empathetic people, whom the world had forsaken and cruelly, even maliciously, labeled as one racial slur or another.



ALL human beings are born FREE and EQUAL in dignity and rights. 

-Universal Declaration of Human Rights