|“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all” Ammu would say.
I remember as a child,
This scrawny, 9 yr old, unpopular, un-pretty, brown assed girl,
– an American girl – but different.
This mantra cycling in my head
When the mean kids
Would say their mean comments because.
I was Desi. Muslim. Different.
I wasn’t like “them.”
So I kept Quiet. Silent. Shushed.
I listened to my Ammu.
“When someone bullies you, just walk away,” Abbu would huff.
How I wanted to rant. Yell. Kick sand in face.
I listened. Respected. Obeyed.
And I kept quiet in response to the teasing.
Silenced into hating myself.
“She’s quiet and shy. Very well behaved,” my teachers would inform my parents. Fake laugh, pat on head. “Indian kids usually are so well behaved. And so good at math.”
"I’m not Indian, I’m Bangladeshi!” I wanted to shout. Talk back. Scream.
“And really, I’m American. I’m not as different as it may seem!”
But instead, I mumbled, and was stifled.
As a child, these teachers profiled,
And meekly I followed,
Because after all, as a child, I was to be modeled.
As I grew older, I knew it wasn’t right.
That there was a larger reason to fight.
But I was unable to articulate,
That there was more than my model minority fate.
And now as an adult, I’ve back lashed violently,
Breaking the hyphenated constraints,
Of being silence stained.
Of being modeled into status quo.
And it’s the same playground meanies,
But the playground has grown,
The meanies have money and power to throw,
The unleashed hatred into the world,
Multiply worse than any playground bully has ever before hurled.
And I’ve backlashed.
Because I can no longer be Quieted. Silenced. Shushed.
My boundary has been pushed.
As playground hating is now hate-crimes.
As INS has my people doing time.
Racial profiling. Glass ceilings.
These teasings take on new grown-up meanings.
Explosively, Fighting words
Fighting voices are found.
I scream and make a sound.
I try to awaken the silenced folks all around.
Together we can rebound. Be loud. Voices pound.
We need to make angry noise. Thunderous. Talk back. Fight.
We should no longer…
“I” will no longer have my difference be the cause of my silence,
But rather the cause of my silence no more.
And when I, have my kid, eventually, when I have a child…
I will tell them,
“If they don’t have anything good to say, say it, because it is better than being silenced.
If you get bullied, let your voice be heard.
Rock the boat.
Speak out on injustice.
Don’t let yourself be modeled into minority meekness.”
The playground is merely the training ground for the real world fight.
When the twin towers were hit on that faithful day, I was overwhelmed with sadness. Not only for the ripple effect of post 9/11 events that were to come, but of how I knew that inevitably, it would have a direct consequence on my family, my Muslim community, my desi community. It seemed that all of a sudden every identity that I had at that time I suddenly had to defend. I felt guilty -- a selfish kind of guilt -- that as the towers fell and the world fell apart around us the only thing that I was really concerned about was the effect it would have on our brown community.
The effect was immediate as hate crimes ran rampant. Fear was instilled everywhere and just as all Americans felt a fear of the Terrorists, my community’s fears were twofold as we felt an additional fear of the potential terror inflicted upon us by our fellow Americans. Homeland Security would come to my house to ask my parents questions, my parents stopped going to the mosque, and traveling on planes for me was inhibited by a special phone call at the front desk that had to be made every time I flew. To the Others, all this may have seemed fair but to Me, though there was an injustice to the terror attacks, it was a shameful injustice that the xenophobic fears born from that event made it unfair for me to be looked at as an equal. It was just not fair.
As national government spent the past five years battling the war on terror with wiretaps, fear mongering and patriotic acts, I too have been fighting the war on terror. But the war on terror that I’m fighting is the American on American terror inflicted on my South Asian American community. The past five years have been a gut wrenching re-birth for the South Asian American community as we developed our political voice as a means of survival against this injustice. It has been hard, but it has been good as these stages to the evolution of a South Asian American political voice puts us one step closer to making our community a force to be reckoned with- at least with regards to disparities, and injustice. In the simplest terms, to make sure that life is a little bit more fair for those brown and American.
All grown up, I understand now that the reason for my pre-adolescent rage was due to my parents’ fear -- fear of the others, fear of being a foreigner in a new land, fear of losing their daughter to being American. It is exactly same kind of fear that begets this society of unfairness in the larger scope of our society -- fear of the [brown] others, fear of [Muslim] foreigners on American land, fear of losing their daughter to be [Un-] American. Same fears, simply different context.
Just as my childhood self was filled with rage at the injustice of my parents, the grown up me is equally filled by rage due to the lack of a level playing field. Life is still not fair, and although that may just be “the way it is,” I believe there are things that we can do to eliminate the injustice and truly have justice for all. The South Asian American community here may not have achieved it yet, but we are a little bit closer.
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