Anisa Hagi-Mohamed is a woman of many labels and passions. She describes herself best as a quirky, bubbly and average but striving to be an extraordinary Muslim, Somali-American woman. Holding both bachelors and masters degrees in Applied Linguistics, she is an ESL teacher by profession. Anisa came to the United States when she was very young. Her family fled from the civil war that broke out in Somalia in the mid-1990s. Immigrating to the US at a young age, she lived the majority of her life in Central and Southern California. Currently, Anisa lives in Saint Cloud, Minnesota with her husband and three children. In 2018, Anisa self-published a reflective journal for the diaspora all over the world titled My Diasporic Dairy. In her free time, she loves to research, read and write about language, identity and home.
Name: Anisa Hagi-Mohamed
Occupation/Role: Teacher, Writer and Mom of three
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always had this dream of becoming a teacher. There were so many educators that made a positive impact on me and I wanted to be like them in a role where I could teach, serve, nurture and empower young minds. I took a rather scenic route throughout my college years, changing my major multiple times. Eventually, I worked up the courage to pursue my childhood dream and it was smooth sailing after that. I guess you can say it was meant to be. As for writing, I feel like it’s something I inherited. My paternal grandfathers were scholars and poets, so creative writing runs in my blood – most of my siblings are writers or poets.
Who were your biggest role models growing up?
My biggest role model growing up would have to be one of my older Sisters, Faisa. Growing up, I felt like she was a superwoman – she was able to do anything she set her mind on. She was outgoing, brave, artistic, talented, an amazing cook, kind and generous. There are too many qualities to name that she possessed. She was my best friend growing up and to this day we are super close. Other positive role models included teachers – for example, my 8th-grade history teacher Dr. Love, yes that was his real name. He had this larger than life personality and his classes felt like a khutbah or sermon, I low-key believed he was a preacher outside of school. He made history come to life for his class of majority-minority students even though our books were filled with unrelatable white faces and places.
What is one thing that you would like to tell your younger self?
Oh, so many things… where do I start? I would first tell my younger self to breathe. I was a pretty anxious child growing up, and not surprisingly I’m now a very anxious adult. I would tell myself not to carry the weight of the world, or the problems of family and friends, on my shoulders. I would also advise my younger self to just enjoy the little moments and to try new things because there are only two outcomes to that: you love the experience and continue to do it or you grow and learn from it.
What was a life-changing moment you experienced that shaped you into the woman that you are today?
I spent such a great deal of time in my undergrad trying to attain a degree to make my parents happy and to make myself feel some sort of validation. It took much longer than I anticipated, mostly because I was so lost and without direction for so long. When I finally graduated with a Bachelors in Linguistics, it felt like years and years of work had paid off and I finally had permission to just live life, to be an adult and pursue passions with more energy and motivation (since classes weren’t taking up so much time). I was honoured to be selected to speak at a Black Baccalaureate Graduation. That was a pivotal point in my life, finishing the first part of my education. I hope to continue this journey into my doctoral degree, insha’Allah.
What made you pursue your current career?
In my early years of college, I had this amazing professor for a Native-American studies class. In his intro class, he told us, “So I just got my tenure so I can say whatever the _____ I want”. I was so taken aback by his bluntness, but I was equally impressed. That funny incident stayed with me. He turned out to be one of the most supportive, amazing professors I had the privilege of being taught by. For an extra-credit opportunity, he invited his Muslim friend to come speak at an event. I sat there in the audience, feeling so validated. Feeling so comfortable in my own skin, a feeling that seemed so foreign to me. What made me pursue my career is teachers like him, teachers who go out of their way to make students feel seen. I strive every day to make my students feel like they matter – whether that’s through diverse literature with characters that resemble them, or meaningful content, projects and discussions.
What is a typical day like for you?
I am currently on maternity leave. I took the whole school year off in order to better focus on my kids and accomplish some personal goals. A typical day is waking up with the baby and making breakfast for my other kids and husband and then going through the day with some routines scattered throughout. I’ve started a new habit (hopefully I can stick to it) of writing in a gratitude journal. It has different sections such as writing three things you’re grateful for, an affirmation for the day, quick doodle, three general goals, a to-do list, schedule and lastly sections for exercise and meals. Yes, it’s the mother of all gratitude journals. I love it. It’s always been difficult for me when it comes to consistently doing anything – I either forget or lose the motivation for it. I’m currently on day 8, so I guess it’s going well. I try to squeeze in writing or other hobbies whenever I can. That’s not always possible and that is okay, I’m just going with the flow and trying to soak up as much time with the kids as possible.
What has been the biggest obstacle in your professional life so far and how did you manage to overcome it?
I think much like any child of immigrants, it’s trying to overcome imposter syndrome. I hold two degrees, have years of teaching experience and on top of that, I’m a multipotentialite (as I am very talented in many areas). Even so, I often struggle with confidence and acknowledging my accomplishments (and yes there is a fear of success, too). It’s something that I am constantly working on.
Which Somali woman inspires you and why?
I can’t say that there’s one particular Somali woman, because I draw inspiration from so many sources – my mother, sisters, friends, co-workers, political figures, historical figures, even online influencers, etc. I find that same strong resilience and power in every Somali woman I know, young or old. I try to root for my sisters wherever they are, and whatever line of work they are in by sharing their successes and/or projects, products and initiatives.
What advice would you give to a person pursuing your chosen career?
I would advise them to check and re-check their intentions for going into education. It’s a rewarding field but most of that reward is internal. It’s the satisfaction you get when a student finally masters a skill, the joy you feel when a student finds their voice and your heart being full whenever your students succeed. The hours are long in teaching, the stress levels are always high (tons of deep breathing), but it’s the most import ion position, in my view, of all the professions as every doctor, engineer, scientist, businessperson, etc was taught by a teacher. Go in it for the love, stay in it for the love. As for writing, I would advise the same – do it because you are passionate about it, pour your whole heart and soul into it.
How would you like people to remember you?
Simply, I would like to be remembered as someone who truly loved diinteeda, dalkeeda iyo dadkeeda (her country, religion and people) and who spent every day trying to uplift them.