East Boston Native Receives Award for First Book

Poet and social activist, Essmaa Litim, received an EXTRAordinary Women award from the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement in March. The life-long East Boston resident is a first generation Algerian American who is dedicated to raising awareness about immigration and autism.

Litim fulfilled her dream of documenting her mother, Safia’s, tale of settling in a foreign country and starting a new life in the United States in the early 1990s. Litim’s first book, “Speechless: Mama’s Story,” was published in 2021, and describes a Muslim woman dedicated to loving and protecting her family as she navigates a new world.

“It’s an educational book,” explained 27-year-old Litim. “It ties to the intersectionality of adversity between immigration and autism — the language barriers and not having proper resources.”

“Speechless” is a memoir about Safia, who grew up in the Algiers and relocated to America with her husband, Brahmin, and their children. Her life transformed during their difficult journey. Safia and Brahmin rebuilt their life together, learned the English language, and accustomed themselves to a new culture while being separated from their families.

“Her thriving through everything that came her way is what strength looks like,” stressed Litim. “That strength is rooted in her upbringing. She powers through because of the influence of her family.”

Litim spent three months in deep discussion with her mother. She hopes that readers will be inspired by Safia’s perseverance through hardships, and feel reassured that that they can thrive; even when confronted with adversity and isolation.

“I highlighted the beauty in things that my mom went through. I want people to feel a sense of home,” Litim maintained. “I have conversations with her all the time. As hard as it was, it was a blessing and gave us the opportunities that we have now.”

Litim has included Safia’s struggles in raising her non-verbal, autistic son, Mohamed, and her family’s experiences in school systems and hospitals.

“I talk about becoming more acclimated in American culture, and the difficulties of raising Mohamed. There are a lot of elements to the story,” acknowledged Litim, who is Safia’s first child to be born in Boston. “The story is written from my mom’s perspective. Her life story is the equivalent of resilience.”

Litim reveals how her mother’s Muslim faith has provided her with stability.

“I feel like my parents became more religious because that was their way to stay connected with their roots,” Litim surmised.

Litim’s family is celebrating the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, a holy month that concentrates on becoming closer to God through sacrifice, gratitude, and fasting sunrise to sunset.

“Ramadan is a spiritual time to cleanse your body, mind, and soul. The fasting aspect has health benefits, too, because it’s good for your body. It’s also a fasting of the mind. You’re trying to create healthy habits and pray more,” Litim expounded. “It’s a time of year to feel the way those less fortunate than you feel – people who don’t have the luxury of food or water. We can connect with them and understand their plight.”

Litim and her family share a nutritious meal at the end of each day of fasting. Her favorite, traditional foods that her mother regularly prepares are bourek, fried egg rolls stuffed with meat, potatoes, and cilantro, and shorba soup.

Safia preserves her cultural identity through the meals she cooks, clothes she wears, and music her family listens to. One of the most important lessons that Litim has learned from her parents is to continue the customs of where they originated from.

“Aside from genetic makeup, your environment and culture make you who you are,” said Litim. “I feel like she grounds herself through the traditional things we do as a family.”

Litim studied marketing at Bentley University, and works in advertising. In addition to being passionate about writing, Litim is the co-founder of Roya, a Boston-based non-profit organization that empowers individuals and communities. Purchase “Speechless: Mama’s Story” on Amazon and www.EssmaaLitim.com.

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