Senior Hebat Elsayed extends goals far beyond American border
Red, white, and black fabric of the Egyptian flag waved among the busy streets of Cairo, Egypt. The tension in the air was thick as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s reign was questioned. Thousands of young, innovative activists gathered in masses in Tahrir Square to bring a new rise of democracy to Egypt, and among them stood senior Hebat Elsayed.
Elsayed, born in Paso Robles, CA, has deeper roots outside of the United States. Her heritage lies directly at 28.8013 degrees south and 31.1711 degrees east separated by the gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, and though Elsayed may call Paso home, her heart lies in Egypt.
“It’s the sense of community and awareness of others that continues to draw me back to Cairo,” said Elsayed, remembering a moment when a little girl whose mother, an English teacher, taught her the Arabic alphabet.
And on the day of the protest, “there were shops opening their doors and giving away free things. The people were so unified in one cause and that feeling is what draws me back time and time again.”
But as racial stigmas are prevalent in today’s society, Elsayed’s strong sense of pride in her country has been the root of many controversial hate crimes.
On September 11 of every year, Elsayed and her family face overwhelming amounts of racism and terror from the public. However last year, Sept. 11, 2012, marked a time in Elsayed’s life that she will never forget.
Scrawled in silver Sharpie was the word “terrorist” on Elsayed’s locker and lying on the inside was a 176 word note blaming Elsayed, her family, and her people for the 2,752 lives lost in the Twin Towers bombing.
“This note was what pushed me over the edge. I’ve never received a note before, especially not one that brutal,” Elsayed said. “When I first got the letter, I decided to not give them power. That, and I didn’t want to be the girl crying in class. But then I couldn’t handle it anymore; I broke down.”
But Elsayed’s tears are what impacted many students and faculty.
“Her tears made her human. There is something about her maturity that strikes me. She told me once that if she ever found out who wrote the letter, she would just want to sit with them and talk,” said AP English teacher Aaron Cantrell.
However, Elsayed isn’t ignorant to the circumstances of one’s belief.
“Their judgement is only coming from somewhere else. People aren’t born thinking that way,” said Elsayed, who doesn’t blame the person who wrote the note.
“At Paso High, I found that many folks simply didn’t understand Islam or Muslims, or understood that in many respects, religion and culture can not only be decoupled from one another, but that culture may influence the practice of religion,” said alumni Nisreen Hasib, a friend to the Elsayed family.
Elsayed’s cousin, Chymuh Elsayed, is proud of hercousin’s integrity and maturity during these trying times.
“Hebat knows there are racist people all around her. This is something that will never come close to affecting her life in anegative way. If anything, she finds it very shocking that there are people who will take the time to show how uneducated they are. Then again, racist remarks come from those who don’t want to see a world become a better place, and Hebat doesn’t have time to let this kind of behavior get to her when her goal in life is to make a difference in the world,” Chymuh said.
But Elsayed feels like this event was more of a “push toward Egypt, not a pull to Paso.”
“I’m going to the American University of Cairo after two years of community college. Unfortunately I have to learn written Arabic before I go, so I decided to transfer,” Elsayed said.
“She loves to read and learn. Hence, having the opportunity to attend the American University in Cairo will only educate her more, something she loves to do. Her open mind and willingness to educate herself will lead her on the path to success,” said Chymah.
And her reason for moving 7600 miles away?
“Our culture is so rich and our people are the best I’ve ever met. Everything I’ve ever seen from the Egyptian people is happiness and good times,” Elsayed said.