Asna Tabassum is Both America’s Dream and Nightmare

South Asian traditions of resistance have long been a feature of political movements. But what happens when we speak out?

GettyImages-2147911900 (1) Asna Tabassum
USC students participate in a silent march in support of Asna Tabassum, whose graduation speech has been cancelled by USC administration, on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Los Angeles, California (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Hassaan Bin Sabir

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May 10, 2024

On April 2, 2024, the University of Southern California (USC) announced Asna Tabassum as its valedictorian speaker. The university chose the first-generation South Asian American Muslim biomedical engineering major out of 236 candidates, citing her work with local nonprofits and the leadership of a student organization that provides medical supplies. 

Tabassum broke the news to her parents with a cake that said, “Val part two.” She was also valedictorian of her high school, but the pandemic canceled her graduation ceremony. “My mom started crying and my dad was like, ‘I don’t get it. What’s on the cake?’” Tabassum said. At that moment, the Tabassums were a joyful family. But if one wanted, one could make them more — the embodiment of the American dream.

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