By Suniti Srinivasan
Today we’re pleased to welcome Huda Fahmy to the WNDB blog to discuss Huda F Are You, out November 23, 2021!
From the creator of Yes, I’m Hot In This, this cheeky, hilarious, and honest graphic novel asks the question everyone has to figure out for themselves: Who are you?
Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.
Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.
How was your mom’s experience when immigrating to America different from yours as a first-generation American Arab-Muslim?
My mom went to an all-girls school in Saudi Arabia and she never really told us much about what her high school life was like. I feel like in that way she was very mysterious. My sisters and I also did not ask a lot about what her school life was like with the assumption that she would not understand the struggles of a high schooler in America. I feel like it was very arrogant teenage behavior where you feel like “ugh she would never understand what I am going through”, which in some ways I repent because we all go through a time where we go through issues and identity problems. So I guess I do not know enough to compare her experiences to mine.
As an adult, how did you capture life as a teen?
I think that the stuff I talk about in the book are elements of my life and elements of my experiences in high school and things that I am still trying to overcome to this day (memories and experiences) that shape you. I guess it is sometimes just diving into very traumatic memories and pulling out what you can with the knowledge that this is a universal thing. Even though as a teenager we feel like nobody gets it and an adult would not understand what a teen goes through, we do get it and you are not the first to experience such issues.
What was the process of coming up with the title of the book?
I have had that title in my mind since I was in 10th grade and I thought it was hilarious that my name was Huda F. My name is pronounced Huda (it sounds like you are saying Hood-Dah fast) but the way teachers used to say it was Huda(who-da). I found it hilarious when teachers were saying things like “Huda F are you? Huda F is that? Huda F is there? “, and I used to crack myself up over it. I told myself if I ever wrote a book I would have this as my title, so I guess it just fit!
What was your inspiration when it came to writing books like That Can Be Arranged, Huda F Are You, and Yes, I’m Hot in This, or what was the need to write such books?
When Trump got elected there were a lot of people trying to tell the Muslim story and they were getting it very wrong. I felt if I have such a problem about it then why not try to do something about it and share my story with others, not caring about who read it or how many people liked it. I guess I just had all this pent-up frustration about how people were getting it wrong; I just wanted a space to express myself freely and tell my story while giving a place for people like me to finally relate to a book. In the beginning, I just wanted a space for people just like me, and slowly that started to become a much bigger thing!
Do you feel that your sisters were like your support system when writing this book and during your high school period of life in general?
The next book I am writing is all about them; even though it is fictional, it is based on elements of my sisters. They have always shown their excitement and given feedback to me when I am writing a book, and have also financially shown their support for me. I remember one of my sisters bought 30 copies of my book and started passing them out. It is wonderful to have that bond with my sisters though we did butt heads at times since we were all a year apart, and sharing 1 ½ bath between 5 girls was hard at times! The amazing thing about having a strong relationship with my sisters is sometimes I completely block out memories that they remember, and then when I read what I wrote to them they will remind me of a certain incident that I had completely forgotten. I will find it hilarious and add an element of it to my book. We all remember a certain memory differently because it affects each of us differently.
You talk a lot about approval and acceptance by society. This is very common for kids my age. 1) What is your perspective as an adult on why kids may want to fit in? 2) As you grow older, does the need to fit in decrease?
- Speaking for myself, I always stuck out in the worst way possible. I never stuck out for my unique abilities or because of something that made me special in a positive way. I stuck out or my “uniqueness” came from how different I was, and being different is a great thing but at the time my differences were not celebrated and made me feel more like an other who was not accepted. Some days you do not want your differences to be the way you stick out, sometimes you would much rather blend in and be nothing rather than drawing attention to yourself, since that just means having others tell you who you are. I did not want to just be seen as a Muslim-Arabic girl—I had so much more to me than that—and I wished people would recognize that. Being Muslim is wonderful and I would love for it to define me, but I want it to define me as what being Muslim means to me, not what it means to others, especially since a lot of negative things can be associated with my religion like terrorism, brainwashed, depressed, needing to be liberated, etc.
- More than the feeling going away, you stop caring very much about pleasing others, caring about what they think, caring of what their biases and prejudice are about you. I learned as much as you try to change and as much as you try to be what they want you to be they will always try to be nitpicky and everything you do will always be fodder for them to judge you and bully you and make you feel awful about yourself. I guess in a way the awesomeness about growing older is that you realize that you really should not care about these people and it is a lot more important to make yourself happy than them.
Have you ever experienced a teacher who was islamophobic?
I have experienced islamophobia in school from elementary school onward. A lot of it can be microaggressions or when they say your name wrong without even trying to say it correctly. It can be that you are being bullied and you go tell the teacher but the teacher does nothing. Even if you take things into your own hands and you confront your bullies you are the one that loses recess. As a kid, you always have that self-doubt if you did something wrong but as you grow older you realize that the reason was that you were the only Muslim in your class or something similar where you are singled out because of your religion.
If you could be any character from Huda F Are You other than yourself who would you be?
As the book goes on there are characters Huda embraces as her friends. I wish I could just take certain characteristics from all of them because each of these characters has something I wish I had. But I guess I love all the characters in my book, so I can’t really choose one.
Huda Fahmy grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, and has loved comics since she was a kid. She attended the University of Michigan where she majored in English. She taught English to middle and high schoolers for eight years before she started writing about her experiences as a visibly Muslim woman in America and was encouraged by her older sister to turn these stories into comics. Huda, her husband Gehad, and their son reside in Houston, Texas.
Suniti Srinivasan is a blog volunteer for We Need Diverse Books, and a middle schooler in International Community School. She is very passionate about law and International Studies. When she is not doing schoolwork, she expresses herself through classical dance and finds it to be a great stress reliever. She is an animal enthusiast and has a golden retriever who keeps her busy. She has been an avid reader from a very young age, absorbing the tales of strong characters in fantasy lands and in society. She hopes to share her joy of reading with the world and help highlight more diverse authors through this platform.