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Letters About Literature National Winners 2019

National Winner, Level 3: Amatullah Mir

Dear Sana Amanat and G. Willow Wilson,

As a young Muslim woman, I was nauseated and terrified as I read continuous headlines describing the vicious acts that targeted Muslims, people of color, and other minorities during the election season of 2016. Hostility surrounded my community as hateful rhetoric was spewed about our religion and culture. I began to feel alone in a country that preached equality and peace. Whether through facing angry sentiments from racist people on the bus or reading about Muslims who were being attacked across the country, I felt hopeless and angered by the spirits that engulfed our nation. I was unwelcome in my own home and community.

My mother tried to lighten my spirits. She would often sit on my bed and discuss current events with me. She attempted to convince me that there was hope for better days in this country. Her words flowed through one of my ears and out of the other, as I was so disappointed and fearful of the incessant hate within our nation. One evening, however, my mother sent me a link of an article about a comic book release. It was called Ms. Marvel by Sana Amanat and G. Willow Wilson. The story, as I read the synopsis, was about a Muslim Pakistani superhero who had developed superhuman abilities and rose to become the new Ms. Marvel. A Marvel fan, I was curious to read about this superhero, whose identity was so similar to mine.

Reading the graphic novel, I was attached to each page. I ate every word, laughed at every joke, and observed every picture and detail. I felt so proud of my culture. It felt amazing to read a comic that involved Urdu, my second language, and incorporated other traditions of the Pakistani culture in its text and graphics.

Your graphic novel series Ms. Marvel recognized and validated me. The struggles and experiences that Kamala Khan endured matched my own. Reading Kamala’s story, I felt such a strong connection to her character. I felt that I was able to connect to Kamala, not only through our shared cultures and religion, but also through our shame. Whenever Kamala is questioned about her religious views or cultures, she feels immense embarrassment and a fierce desire to be able to fit in with the rest of her town. Her situation reminded me of my own. The conspicuous looks and double-takes I receive for wearing the hijab and the never-ending questions about my culture and religion put me in the same state as Kamala. I felt alone, an outsider in my own neighborhood. I hated this feeling of being different. However, after Kamala gains her confidence through helping people and saving the world, the questions she receives no longer irritate her and make her afraid of who she is. Her confidence allows her to accept who she is, to be assertive without feeling shame, and to no longer feel self-conscious in her own skin.

Kamala’s journey of gaining her self-confidence speaks to me. Kamala is able to use her confidence to help and influence those around her. Her developed self-love enables her to become a better person for herself and her community. Reading your comic, I was inspired to help others by developing my self-growth, and to create platforms for underrepresented audiences to empower and inspire youth, just as your comic empowered me.

After reading your comic, I created the “Students for Social Justice and Political Action” (SSJPA) initiative. Inspired by Kamala Khan’s unapologetic love for her identity and her will to fight for those around her, the SSJPA initiative is a platform for youth empowerment. SSJPA is dedicated to empowering women of color by teaching them about their rights and educating them on political topics and civic engagement.

By teaching members their rights as citizens, granting them a space to celebrate their identities, and enabling them to be forces of change in their communities, SSJPA’s platform propagates the values and development of Kamala Khan. Just as a Muslim woman of color like Kamala Khan was able to find her courage and self-confidence in a hostile and seemingly unwelcome environment, my peers and I are able to find it too.

With love and appreciation,

Amatullah Mir