At a glance, people usually can’t tell that I’m Turkish and Muslim. But when I speak in my native language, some people suddenly see me as an enemy and not a friend.
When I joined my school’s robotics team, I met another Turkish student. We both felt excited to be able to speak in Turkish to each other. We discussed our favorite foods and soccer teams.
Overhearing us, a teammate said, “You two sound like terrorists.” Every bit of excitement I felt vanished. I looked to my other teammates, but no one defended us. It was as if they agreed with him.
Later that year, we went to an international robotics event where my teammates got a chance to meet a team from Turkey.
After bonding with the Turkish students over our robots and school, something changed in my teammates. It was like they saw my culture in a different light.
I’ve always been told that conversations help people understand each other, but seeing my teammates engaged and interested in getting to know the team from Turkey gave me hope that the stereotypes many of my peers have of Muslims could change as well.