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“And I’m like, Girl, if that’s what makes you feel happy and beautiful—go ahead. But it’s ironic because people will slut-shame her, but then apparently they think I’m oppressed because I choose to do the opposite and cover my body.”In 2005, after an application process lasting years, Halima, her mother, and brother immigrated to this country, arriving first in St. Cloud, where her mother had friends among the city’s sizable Somali community.
That was when Halima first put on the hijab, she says, “because I’d seen my mom wearing it, and I wanted to be like her.”Middle school was difficult.
In sixth grade, one boy used to call me ‘Smellian’ rather than ‘Somalian,’ and other kids picked up on it,” she says.
“But we outgrew it, and now he and I are really close.”There’s poignancy in the fact that Halima’s rising success has coincided with a resistance to welcoming refugees from President Trump, who suspended immigration from six Muslim-majority countries—including Somalia—last March.
“ was a refugee,” she says, “and I’m glad the door opened for my family to come to the United States, to find a new life and have opportunities.
In my experience, refugees are among the people most fearful of, and most fed up with, violence.
The camp’s inhabitants came from all over Africa, sometimes mingling with children of local Turkana tribespeople. They expose much of their skin and worship Akuj, a god they associate with the sky. “For Christmas Eve, we didn’t have lots of presents, but my mom’s friends were Ethiopian Christians, so they’d cook and make sure all the kids were fed.
A black —a long-sleeved, floor-length robe—flows over the spiky, three-and-a-half-inch heels in which she moves about easily.Here about 200 stalls offer a seemingly infinite variety of clothing for observant Muslims: from simple pull-on hijabs for little girls to waist-cinching, floral-printed or fancy lace Halima is constantly interrupted by eager schoolgirls wanting selfies with her, and older women who pull their veils closer while volunteering advice.A pair of feisty, elderly shopkeepers corner her for a long time, their rapid-fire Somali punctuated with emphatic declarations of “Inshallah! ”) That evening, over dinner in a Somali restaurant, I ask Halima what the women were saying.A small photograph of her from a few years back hangs in a hallway of her alma mater, Apollo High School in St. Teenagers—some in head scarves, others in flannel shirts and work boots—jostle by it on the way to class and during the call to prayer.There’s still a bit of baby fat on the ninth-grade girl in the picture, who wears a printed hijab but shows no hint of shyness in her dazzling grin. A year ago, she was elected the first Muslim homecoming queen in her high school’s—and St. “I saw how even something as small as that brought my community and my school together, how it encouraged other girls like me to join student government and clubs,” she says over lunch at a food court popular with high-schoolers.