Valeria Astudillo Cueva is originally from Ecuador and has been living in New York City for the past 5 years. She is currently studying Marketing at York College and is the Executive Director of the Student Government Association. She hopes to go to graduate school and pursue a Master’s degree in marketing as well.
As a revert to Islam, what has been the most challenging part about being Muslim?
I think the most challenging part of being a revert is trying to incorporate Islam into my daily life. Starting with how I dress, I try to incorporate more modest outfits into my wardrobe. Also prayers, if you really want to stick to praying on time on most days you have to learn to squeeze those 5-10 minutes into your routine and that can be a bit difficult if your schedule is hectic.
Who has been the most important person in your life?
First of all God is always my main source of strength, only he knows what’s best. He is the most important. On the other hand, I think the most important person in my life is myself. I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t put yourself first you won’t be able to be happy. Not to sound selfish, but you must take care of yourself in order to help others successfully! I am the person who has brought me back up when I fell down time and time again. Even though I had support from family and friends which is Alhamdulillah a blessing, I will always be the one there for me no matter what; I live with myself every day I know me more than anybody.
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
I think the happiest moment was when I saw my mom again after two years of living away from her. The moment was overwhelming and tears were flowing but it was the happiest I’ve ever been. Growing up one doesn’t realize the importance of a mother in life and I’m blessed to have mine.
The saddest moment was when I found out I had a brain tumor (benign). In this situation tears flowed as well but from anguish and sadness. I was not only worried about me and my life but how my mother and father would feel. I shared the news with my father right away and waited 2 days to share them with my mother because I didn’t want the news out or for her to worry, also she wasn’t in the country at the time.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
The biggest influence would have to be my father. I feel that we share a great bond and more than father-daughter we are two friends sharing stories and advice. He has really pushed me to be better and continues to do so every day. I think is his mission to see me thrive and his advice and experience have gotten me to where I am today.
What lessons did that person teach you?
He taught me that no matter how hard or difficult it gets, you have to be resourceful, find ways to move forward. The world keeps moving even if you stand still, so better make the best out of every opportunity and lesson.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
One would be that if you keep reading the previous chapter in your life you’ll never be able to move on to the next; some doors need to be closed in order to open new ones.
Be kind to everyone, even if they are not kind to you. Your behavior says a lot about you. Try your best not to judge those who sin differently than you.
What are you proudest of?
I’m proudest of the person I’ve become. I think that I’ve been through some challenges that changed my life and having that life experience is priceless. Also now I’m a “go getter” and I’m having better results at achieving things I set my mind to.
When in life have you felt most alone?
After 6 months or so after my brain surgery, I felt that I wasn’t happy. I think I got depressed for a bit, thankfully Ramadan came. I got closer to God and the Islamic practices. I took the decision of reverting in that period and it has truly been a blessing.
How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
I think as a young girl I assumed that in your early 20’s you’d be a full grownup. Now at 26 I realize that there’s still some growing up to do. I think the difference from what I imagined is that the process of things takes longer and I might not be exactly where I want to be at this point in my life, but everyday I’m a step closer.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. and Latinos are the largest group turning to and accepting islam. Why do you think that is? What does Islam have to offer that perhaps other religions do not?
I think Latinos are the largest population turning to Islam because we share similar experiences, for example being discriminated on a regular basis or even immigrating to the U.S. Personally I find Islam inclusive and welcoming. Those who choose to become Muslim understand that Islam isn’t about hate but rather love and compassion, wishing for others what you want for yourself.
How would you like to be remembered?
This is a tough one because I could be Idealistic and say that I wish to be remembered as someone successful and inspiring, someone who made a difference and inspired change in a good way. But simply that the ones close to my heart remember me for being a good person and one that didn’t give up.