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WLP 2021 Week 4: The Fourth of July Offers a New Perspective on Belonging

Week Four of WLP 2021 was especially unique because the entire cohort got the chance to meet each other in person for a weekend of fellowship, conversation, and exploration. As I sat with my WLP cohort on the National Mall on the evening of the Fourth of July, I was overcome by gratitude for the experience I get to create and inhabit as a South Asian, Pakistani, Muslim woman in America. It’s a powerful feeling to rest in such validation and acceptance of my being during a week intended to celebrate the United States—a country that has been my forever home and yet often feels far from it. I owe these sentiments to my fellow cohort members, our guest speakers, and my internship; this revelation has been the most transformational aspect of WLP for me.

We kicked off our week in DC together by visiting the Museum of Palestinian People – which was such an insightful and reflective experience to share so early. Over the course of our time together, we saw many of the institutions and emblems of America that we hope to one day join and advocate for ourselves.

The cohort had the opportunity to meet with Sita Sonty, currently a partner at the Boston Consulting Group, who has an impressive background in U.S. foreign policy, defense, and security. I asked her about the characterization of human security and hard security as a dichotomy. Her response pushed me to think deeper about what it means to balance and intersect my interests in both fields, which I appreciate as I continue to explore post-undergrad plans.

That night we were invited to an informal gathering with some WLP alumni who are just a few years older than us. Once again, it was incredibly meaningful to chat about our distinct yet connected upbringings, families, and career goals. I got to meet my mentor, Anmol, in person for the first time, along with a few other WLP women alumni, and having their support and guidance was so reassuring.

Following our chat with Sita, we spoke with Chief Judge ​​Sri Srinivasan to learn more about his legal career and how his identity has shaped his life and trajectory. Chief Judge Srinivasan shared the story of his confirmation and the oath he took on his father’s Bhagavad Gita. He described that moment as “a validation of the adventure [his father] elicited.” It’s safe to say that hearing his story brought out our emotions and pride as South Asian Americans treading our own paths to public service.

Our final event of the week was a book launch for the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). It was so empowering to be on a Zoom call with 100+ South Asians celebrating the launch of a book that documents our diasporic stories and histories. Yet again, we were exposed to the idea of what affirmation and validation can look like for us. During the call, the Executive Director of SAADA invited us to put a hand on our heart if something he said landed with us; that repeated action evoked deep respect for my story and heritage.

I’ve been telling my WLP cohort members that my world before WLP admittedly felt “small”—I didn’t have many people in my life who looked like me or had experienced similar adversities. In the past four weeks, my eyes have opened to an entire community of engaged public servants grounded in their South Asian American identity, and I am immensely grateful for it.


Zainub Ali

Department of Commerce, Office of the Undersecretary for Economic Affairs

University of Georgia ‘23


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