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Our community is engaged in an important effort to create a community of belonging. This exhibition illustrates belonging through the recorded, unrehearsed, personal stories of eleven, self-selected and local participants. They were asked to share their understandings and experiences of belonging.

Voices of Belonging - Maria

"I think more people can feel like they belong if more people are welcoming most of the time."

My name is Maria Sofia. I am a second generation living here in the United States. I've lived here... I grew up here all my life. I was born in Chicago. I moved to a small town when I was really little. And then I came to Dekalb, I think around five years ago. Originally my family, both of my parents, they're from Bangladesh, which is a small country by India. And so they, both of them, they came here to get a better education. My family and I came to DeKalb. Because the town that we were living in before, it was really small and it wasn't really that diverse.

Being a Muslim, like, it's really important to us... the town that we were living in before, there wasn't any Muslims. And so one of the reasons we came to DeKalb was because it wasn't too busy. But it had like a university area, which was nice. Most people don't know this, but I'm actually 16. And I started college when I was 14. So a lot of times I try to hide who I am. Because once like people know your age, if I'm talking to people that are my age, then they treat you a little different than like,’ oh wait, but you're not in high school.’ And then like the same thing in college just like, ‘wait, you're not supposed to be in college.’ So, I think it's getting better. There are definitely people that are more accepting of it, which is really nice.

The meaning of belonging to me, I think it's when you can act completely yourself in a place. And, having no hesitation about how you act or pretending to be something you're not. I know, because I've always been like, more different around wherever I went, and I'm still trying to figure out where I belong. Because you know, everyone is different. So I think everyone, they go to like through this phase where they're like, ‘where do I actually belong?’ So, I'm still trying to figure out where I belong. To me, there are my friends. They're really supportive, and they make me feel like I belong. And even sometimes if I'm being hard on myself, they can help me out. And the same thing with my family.

I think more people can feel like they belong if more people are welcoming. And most of the time the good thing about DeKalb is that it's like a pretty welcoming community, which is really nice. That's one of the things I really like about Dekalb. I know having like events, it's a good opportunity to meet new people, where people can find others that are like them or that have, you know, the same hobbies as them or something like that, that helped them make them like they belong.

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