#15 Girls: American Girls Open Up About Their Lives, Their Hopes
#15 Girls: American Girls Open Up About Their Lives, Their Hopes
From El Salvador to Lebanon to Nepal, NPR has been exploring the lives of 15-year-old girls around the world. The series closes with Michel Martin's conversation with a diverse group here in the U.S.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So we just dug into a bit of World Series history. Now let's talk about a group of people for whom it's all about the future. We're talking about 15-year-old girls. Over the past few weeks, NPR has been reporting on the lives of 15-year-old girls around the world. Today, we're going to end the series by talking to 15-year-old girls right here in the U.S. There was nothing scientific about it. We just wanted to talk to a group of young women from different backgrounds, and we found them at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., which is just outside Washington, D.C.
LESLIE: My name is Leslie Morales. I come to Montgomery Blair. I'm a sophomore.
TANJIM: I'm Tanjim Choudhury - 15 years old and going Montgomery Blair High School.
SORAYA: My name is Soraya. I am 15 years old and a sophomore here at Montgomery Blair.
MARTIN: They talked with me about their lives at 15 and their hopes for the future. Leslie Morales started us off by talking about the quinceanera, even though she eventually decided to celebrate her 15th birthday with a trip to Disney World. Leslie understood why the quinceanera was so important to her friends and family.
LESLIE: The meaning of a quinceanera is to, like, grow up, and you're becoming a woman. You're responsible for yourself, as, like, to what career you want to practice or, like, what do you want - what you want to do with your future?
MARTIN: Soraya, what about you? Is - was 15 a big day for you? Was it big?
SORAYA: It - for a Somalian, it's - our main religion is Islam, so in all - in our culture and in both our religion, 15 is a huge number. Religiously, when I turn 15, I am a woman. Everything that I've done wrong, everything that I've done right is beginning to be written and all my deeds and my sins and whatnot. And whatever I do is now held accountable for me, not my parents.
MARTIN: How does that feel? Do you feel like a woman?
SORAYA: I do, in a sense. I have three older sisters, and they've shown me the rights and wrongs. They've showed me what to do, and they've shown me that I can do anything that I want to if I really put my mind to it.
MARTIN: Tanjim, is there anything you wanted to add to that about being 15 and what the responsibilities of being 15 are?
TANJIM: When you are, like, 15, in my family, they're, like, helping my mom. Before it was, like, my sister responsible for helping mom and other stuff. But now my sister is, like, shouting at me, like, oh, you help Mom 'cause I'm out at work. I was like OK. So after school, do my homework, I try to help my mom.
MARTIN: This is one of the things I was curious about is - what do you feel is expected of you now? And is that sometimes different from what you want for yourself?
LESLIE: For my family, I have three younger brothers, and I'm the oldest. And they expect me to do the cooking at the house. They expect me to clean up, and I do. Since I'm the oldest, I feel like I'm supposed to show them - like, give them an example of doing good in school - graduating, go to college.
MARTIN: May I ask if anyone else in your family has been to college?
LESLIE: Not that I know of.
MARTIN: So you would be the first.
MARTIN: What will it mean when you do that?
LESLIE: It will be an honor. It would be like - I would be the first one. I'll feel so special. And then my brothers will see me going to college, and they're going to want to get on - like, on my level. That's going to, like, encourage them. It will be awesome, honestly.
MARTIN: Tanjim, what about you? What - do you know what's expected of you? And how do you feel about it?
TANJIM: Yeah, my family's like - they all are educated well. And my - some cousins are architect engineer, electric engineer. So they expect really well from me. So I try to get good grade like my brother and sister and cousins. So sometimes it's hard for me.
MARTIN: What do your parents want for you when you grow up, or what do you want for yourself?
TANJIM: I want to be a journalist, but my dad want to be, like, doctor (laughter). So that's the thing 'cause in my family, no one is doctor. And my dad really want me become a doctor.
MARTIN: I bet that can be hard.
MARTIN: Soraya, what about you? Do you ever think about or do you hear about - all of you have immigrant backgrounds. Do you ever hear about life...
SORAYA: All the time.
MARTIN: ...Back home and think about the differences? And how does that strike you?
SORAYA: When they're 15 in Somalia, some of them would be able to continue their education, and some of them wouldn't. And most of the time, it was the girls that wouldn't be able to. And I guess the pressure was always like - we are in America, Soraya. You know, there's so much opportunities. You have to take ahold of it. Your cousins - I actually had cousins come from Somalia. And they didn't have a house at the time, and my aunt was taking them in. And it was just a really - just tough experience for them, and they came.
They were telling us all this stuff, and I will never, ever stop being thankful of my mom. She worked so hard to come here. She was so, like, set on coming here, set on, like, making a better life for all of us. So just knowing that there's other people back in Somalia who have to choose between getting a better life by continuing their education or having to go home and be married off or having to do work at home or just not being able to get the opportunities that I have here is - it's troubling.
MARTIN: Before - yeah, before we let you go - and I thank you again for taking all this time - I'm wondering - you heard in a lot of these stories how being a girl really sets the course of your life. Do you feel being a girl is a plus or a minus?
LESLIE: I think it's a plus. There's so many things that I can do and that, like, coming - especially from our religion - like, all the women and the girls - we're very close-knit.
SORAYA: I do know some families that have to put girls aside and say, hey, no, you can't do that. He's a boy. He can do it. But also, my aunts who would be there, and they would tell me do it. You can do it. They would push me forward. I knew my female teachers would always - they would help me - sitting right beside me, helping me doing English homework and whatnot when I couldn't understand it. And it was just - it's just a great - we have a great bond of support. That's what I really like about it. We're not just sitting ducks. Like, we can do stuff.
MARTIN: Tanjim, what about you? What would make things better, if anything?
TANJIM: Boys are good, not bad, but girls - they're always smart. Girls can do whatever they want.
MARTIN: Fifteen-year-old girls at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. Tell us about your life at 15 at the Twitter hashtag #15girls.
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