Khadija Chudnoff, 18, was elected homecoming queen on Jan. 17 at Monte del Sol High School.
SFR: Where is your family from originally?
KC: My father is from Israel. He’s from a village in the mountains, lots of
farmlands and stuff. And my mother was born in Germany because my grandfather was in the American Army.
How many brothers and sisters do you have and what do your parents do?
I have seven brothers and sisters.
That’s a lot, huh? There are six girls and two boys. My mother is a math teacher at an elementary school in Abiquiu and my father is a hydrologist.
How long have you been in Santa Fe?
I’ve been coming to Santa Fe since the seventh grade. I don’t live in Santa Fe, though. I live in Abiquiu.
So why did you want to be homecoming queen?
[Laughs] I didn’t actually think I was going to win.
My school is pretty small and open to new things. I don’t know, I think it sets a good example for Muslim girls.
It shows them that they can have a social life and still be religious. And it shows non-Muslims that Muslims are just normal people.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of insults or slurs because you’re Muslim?
Yeah, I couldn’t wear the headscarf for a very long time because somebody would make a comment like, ‘You’re a terrorist’ and ‘What do you have underneath your scarf? A bomb?’ Things that aren’t really funny.
I remember I was at an anti-war protest and somebody told me I was a terrorist and that it was because of me that we’re at war.
I wasn’t prepared to be mature about it and try to educate people about it. Before, I’d wear it and [when] people would ask me questions, I was too shy to answer them.
How do you answer them now?
Have you ever seen a picture of the Virgin Mary? She has her hair covered, she has her arms covered, she has her legs covered.
She’s dressed modestly and she’s not oppressed. It’s a very personal choice of mine.
It’s not just women who cover up in Islam. The men do it. They just do it differently. The men have to cover up navel to the knee.
Like my brother, when he goes swimming, he wears a T-shirt with the shorts. It’s the way you present yourself with the scarf. You’re supposed to be humble.
I’m still working on that part [laughs]. If you’re talking to someone, they’re forced to look at just your face rather than checking you out, seeing if you’re cute. They have to give me a chance.
What sort of activities have you been involved with at school?
There’s only 60 students in the graduating class. But I do like being in the spotlight, I like taking charge and organizing things and being part of the community.
I used to be in student council and I’m on the yearbook committee again.
We have school gatherings and I like talking in them and we have a National Honor Society and I’m in that. Little stuff like that.
Did anyone ever say, ‘You don’t exactly look like the Barbie-doll homecoming queen stereotype’?
[Laughs] Not anyone from the school.
My dad is a pretty traditional kind of guy. He wasn’t too happy at first.
He isn’t into the whole American vision for it. I had to first convince him to let me do it. And he was surprisingly really supportive after I got it.
Some of my friends were surprised more than anything because you don’t really hear much about a Muslim homecoming queen.
I mean, right now there’s so much negative media about Muslims. And so many extremes. But really Islam is about balance, a balance that you keep between this world and your religion.
Like I can still wear a crown on top of my scarf!
So you want people to know you’re a Muslim?
Before I wore my scarf no one knew I was Muslim.
I looked like every other teenager. But after Sept. 11 happened and there was so many negative things about Islam, I thought it was my job, my duty. I feel like it’s my duty to show people that I’m normal.
What kind of music do you like?
I listen to a lot of oldies, I listen to a lot of Arabic music. And I listen to some chick bands like the Go-Go’s and the Cranberries.
I actually just got the new Spice Girls CD, which I’m really excited about. It’s mostly old songs but their new songs are terrible. But that’s OK.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I plan on going to [University of New Mexico] for one year and transferring to hopefully the American University of Cairo in Egypt, and if I don’t go there after my first year, then I want to go to a school in Chicago, the University of Chicago hopefully.
I want to study world history and TV production.
Do you know what you want to do after that?
Hopefully my career will be creating educational videos for Muslim children, and videos for non-Muslim students, educational videos about Islam.
When I was little, there was this show I would watch called Adam’s World. It’s a show for Muslim kids.
I’d love to work on Adam’s World or this new show in Canada called Little Mosque on the Prairie.