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  • Omar Waheed

Anas Yaseen strives to create a sense of belonging

Iowa native and graduate student at Iowa State, Anas Yaseen strives to create a sense of belonging for him and anyone coming to the United States for the first time.

Son to two Arab immigrants, Yaseen keeps his roots close to his heart as a Palestinian and Muslim. Experiencing both subtle and overt racism growing up in West Des Moines, IA as one of the only Arabs in his school made for an experience of reflection on how he was treated.

Attending Iowa State to get his bachelors initially, Yaseen saw multiple different paths that he wanted to go down, none being the one he’s currently in with pursuing his master’s in mechanical engineering.

Seeing himself as a lawyer, Yaseen pivoted when he took his first physics class. Not one for math in his earlier days, he grew a deep connection to engineering when he took a trip to Mecca on Umrah, a lesser pilgrimage in Islam different from Hajj.

Seeing the structural setup of the holy monument from an engineering standpoint, Yaseen connected his spirituality with his ambitions and settled on trying to be a civil engineer. Ultimately not being a program for him, moving to mechanical engineering after balancing choices between the former and chemical or biomedical engineering.

While having the desire to go into civil engineering, what tied engineering and his faith was purely coincidental. Choosing between wanting to go to San Francisco and Saudi Arabia to visit Mecca, it really came down to price. Being that a trip to Mecca, which is an imperative thing one must do once in every Muslim’s lifetime, the fact that going to San Francisco would have cost more caused a kismet experience in Yaseen’s life.

Strongly tied to his identity as Palestinian and Muslim, Yaseen was different from his peers growing up in a mostly White Christian environment.

Growing up in a post 9/11 United States, the racial bullying was relentless and too much for a child to understand until later in life.

“I thought they were laughing with me, not at me,” Yaseen said.

Hearing slurs thrown his way as common as the wind blowing, Yaseen later understood exactly what was happening later in life. Experiencing rampant racism firsthand, both his peers and teachers in West Des Moines never really let up.

Sending Yaseen to English as a Second Language program in elementary school despite being born in the United States and English being his primary language, he could feel himself being treated differently from everyone else.

Struggling to find a place of belonging, Yaseen got a breath of fresh air when he went to Iowa State. Finding out the people here are more accepting of other people, it seemed to be a solid first step for Yaseen to find his place.

Going forward with finding a place of belonging, it was not soon before Yaseen joined Iowa State’s Arab Student Association. Being able to be with a large swath of people like him past the oddity of a couple here and there in his primary school education, the feeling seeped into Yaseen as he wanted to reciprocate the feeling of belonging to other people.

“I want others to know there’s someone like me out there,” Yaseen said. “Someone who’s lived with my experiences. Someone who can help.”

Understanding the large culture shock non-Arab Americans could feel when coming here, Yaseen sees himself as someone who can help others ease into life here since he himself was able to experience both worlds as an Arab who has been to Palestine and as an American who has grown up here and experienced the difference in cultures.

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