Iman Hassan will always be “Lena” to me. In the summer of 2008, we were camp counselors at Concordia Language Villages. Both speaking German, we were in the German immersion camp – Waldsee. Staff and campers all choose German names. She was Lena. I was Heike. So, that’s why it still feels odd thinking of her as Iman.

Being new camp counselors made for one interesting summer! Neither she nor I had even been to Waldsee as campers like most of the other counselors, so it was a lot to get used to! I was happy to be placed in a cabin with Lena for most of the summer.

There were so many fun and silly memories at Waldsee. A highly dramatic encounter with a Fledermaus, an educational reenactment of a divided East and West Germany that must have been a terrible way to spend the 4th of July if you were a camper stuck in Ostdeutschland, silly but sentimental songs and skits (including a German “remix” to “We’re All in This Together’ from High School Musical – which wildly popular that year), late night convos among counselors once kids went to bed, weekends out at the (only) local country bar. And, one of my fondest memories – an epic camper and counselor version of “The Dating Game” where our cabin won (I think!) but likely because I mouthed the answers to Iman. I was kind of sad but mostly happy to return home to civilization after my 6 week session. Iman stayed much longer – she certainly caught more of a Waldsee bug than I did ;)!

Iman is incredibly smart, stylish, beautiful, brilliant, classy, strong, and warm.

I’ll be honest - Iman always seemed like my missed connection BFF. There aren't a whole lot of social justice centered, German & Global Studies major, fashion forward, world traveling women in Minnesota. We have quite a bit in common. Although – Iman beats me in the style category all day…every day. And, I pride myself on my sense of style so that’s saying a lot about this lady’s fashion!

I admire Iman’s commitment to social issues, her language skills (both in writing – example below) and her ability to speak multiple languages, as well as her commitment to her family and sisters. Although she’s on and off social media, when she’s on all I see are the beautiful and brilliant Hassan women popping up on my newsfeed.

 I look forward to staying connected with Iman. I am inspired by her style, brilliance, and grace.

Iman shared her responses about what inspires her in different way. I love her poetic and dynamic words so I wanted to leave them be. . .

What inspires you?

I come from a lineage of poets, nomads, and survivors of droughts. The multifaceted identity that I live today is a byproduct of my unintended and unwanted international nomadic life as a refugee. The refugee experience is at the epicenter of my identity. War, famine, and terror penetrated the first half of my childhood due to the unstable conditions of my birthplace.

This fortuitous constellation of events led me to the largest somali diaspora in the United States. Normative notions of national identity and feeling of home and safety were quickly revoked from my family. My grandfather was a nomad, yet this type of journey and displacement felt unnatural to my family.

In middle school I quickly became aware of my painful alien existence in the post-911 era. I lost myself in the world of academia. This formed an invisible layer that created an absence of annoyance at school. At the time, I had no words for racism and xenophobia. I hardly acquired words for mundane objects such as ruler, or pen due to my novice ESL status. Everyday a new word, concept, and cultural experience distracted me from the strenuous racist discourse of my peers. It was exciting to me, all of it. I loved the process of learning a new language and connecting to a foreign culture. The arduous potpourri of conditions and struggles as a foreigner faded away due to my love for school and the education that seemed like a constant gift to me. I eagerly threw myself on every assignment and challenge that the American school system presented to me.

Being black, foreign, and Muslim made for a particular kind of academic determination. I possessed an arrogant gentleness in the classroom that later developed into charismatic eagerness. The power behind my voice grew stronger with every book that I devoured.

Later, I stumbled upon my first love; the great writers of Sturm und Drang, and continued a tumultuous, painful relationship with my German enlightenment philosophers. My great loves were eventually deconstructed, and heavily questioned in my postmodern feminist reading of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. However, I still credit Novalis, Brecht, and Kant for my initial attraction to German philosophical discourse. As a first-generation college student I began my journey as a German and Global studies major at the University of Minnesota.

Every classroom nourished my deep concerns for gender equality, inclusiveness, and the systematic deconstruction of the oppressive forces I personally felt in my community. The essence of my identity has always been a political formation never absent of global and local activism. My studies allowed me to make sense of what I lived. Instead of suffering from the political abhorrence that undocumented immigrants face, I became a benefactor and product of international law. My past, my present, and my future are in direct connection to the political succor that the legal construction of the refugee status provides. The international legal community created a very thin membrane between asylum-seeker and undocumented immigrant. This socio-political legal construction of the refugee fascinates me on multiple levels because of my personal experience with the ubuesque minefield that one has to overcome to reach this status.
— Iman Hassan

This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!