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Sophomore Ulaa Kuziez draws from Syrian heritage to fight for social justice

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Sophomore Ulaa Kuziez draws from Syrian heritage to fight for social justice

Standing in front of the Missouri capitol building, sophomore Ulaa Kuziez shows her support for Syrian refugees. Kuziez visited Jefferson City with the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). “There are definitely some negative aspects to standing out, being a Muslim immigrant in a majority white high school,” Kuziez said. “At times it can get a little uncomfortable or a little awkward, but I choose to be unapologetic about my identity and about being a Muslim, Syrian-American woman.”

Standing in front of the Missouri capitol building, sophomore Ulaa Kuziez shows her support for Syrian refugees. Kuziez visited Jefferson City with the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). “There are definitely some negative aspects to standing out, being a Muslim immigrant in a majority white high school,” Kuziez said. “At times it can get a little uncomfortable or a little awkward, but I choose to be unapologetic about my identity and about being a Muslim, Syrian-American woman.”

Courtesy of Ulaa Kuziez

Standing in front of the Missouri capitol building, sophomore Ulaa Kuziez shows her support for Syrian refugees. Kuziez visited Jefferson City with the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). “There are definitely some negative aspects to standing out, being a Muslim immigrant in a majority white high school,” Kuziez said. “At times it can get a little uncomfortable or a little awkward, but I choose to be unapologetic about my identity and about being a Muslim, Syrian-American woman.”

Courtesy of Ulaa Kuziez

Courtesy of Ulaa Kuziez

Standing in front of the Missouri capitol building, sophomore Ulaa Kuziez shows her support for Syrian refugees. Kuziez visited Jefferson City with the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR). “There are definitely some negative aspects to standing out, being a Muslim immigrant in a majority white high school,” Kuziez said. “At times it can get a little uncomfortable or a little awkward, but I choose to be unapologetic about my identity and about being a Muslim, Syrian-American woman.”

By Lydia Roseman, Parkway West High School

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With a new language, culture and lifestyle awaiting her in the United States, sophomore Ulaa Kuziez and her family immigrated from Damascus, Syria to Missouri when Kuziez was nine years old.

“I don’t remember the exact day that we decided to go, but my parents were thinking about our future and how they want us to live and prosper, and the best way for us to do that at that time was to come to the United States for the opportunities here,” Kuziez said. “When I first moved here, everything was so different, the language, the culture, the people, so I felt like a stranger and that was really frightening for 9-year-old me.”

Though learning English was one of the hardest transitions for Kuziez to make in moving to America, she is thankful for the guidance that she received from her elementary school teachers.

“I still speak Arabic at home, but a lot of people tell me that they’re surprised to hear me speak because my English is good,” Kuziez said. “I know that the only reason that I learned to speak this language so quickly was through the support of my teachers at Green Trails Elementary. I’m forever grateful for their support.”

Kuziez considers herself very fortunate to have had a smooth transition from Syria to the United States, but she knows that not every immigrant is as lucky as she is.

“The process for other people is extremely long and very difficult, but for me, my family had lived in the States back in the 90s, so they have US citizenship that they passed onto my sibling and me,” Kuziez said. “That made it a lot easier for us to come in, whereas my family members back in Syria have been trying to apply, but are unable to come in due to the policy that bans them from entering.”

It is tiring to wake up every day and try to prove that I belong and that I am part of this society. I have to brace myself for hateful attacks in all of my identities. I have to prove my Americanness. That shouldn’t have to be the case.”

— sophomore Ulaa Kuziez

Kuziez uses her frustrations regarding the struggles that her Syrian relatives face in their efforts to gain citizenship to inspire her fight for social justice.

“When the very country that accepted me for who I was a few years ago tries to impose policies that ban people who look like me from entering the country—that makes me upset, that makes me frustrated. That’s also part of the reason why I became interested in the fight for justice for all.”

While Kuziez fights for social justice regarding immigration, she is also passionate about racial issues on the home front. Kuziez believes that her hijab, the headscarf that she chooses to wear, is the reason she experiences prejudice when she is in public.

“Part of the reason I became passionate about social justice was because of my personal experience with prejudice ever since I started to put on the hijab. That has motivated me to be unapologetic, but also learn more and try to fight for justice,” Kuziez said. “It is tiring to wake up every day and try to prove that I belong and that I am part of this society. I have to brace myself for hateful attacks in all of my identities. I have to prove my Americanness. That shouldn’t have to be the case.”

In an effort to educate her community on racial prejudice, Kuziez is involved in programs like the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Superintendent’s Social Justice Leadership Advisory Council (SSJLAC).

“With CAIR, a few high school students met with our elected representatives and we talked to them about issues that pertain to us as young people, but also as Muslim students. We wanted to show them that we care and we, as their constituents, belong here and we want to be involved in the process of making decisions for us,” Kuziez said. “SSJLAC meets with Dr. Marty and we use that conversation to push for change and to push for a more inclusive environment as well as more strict policy and zero tolerance towards racial discrimination in general.”

Kuziez considers school to be a fairly inclusive environment, but she is always looking for ways to increase knowledge and diversity.

“I know we all have biases, we all have misconceptions, including myself,” Kuziez said. “I want to challenge everyone to get out of their comfort zones, to read the facts, to talk to people who are different than them and try to understand the reality of people that they may have misconceptions about.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on April 23, 2019.

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