Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's My Movement?

I recently read a blog post written by my friend Charles Cole (I highly suggest you read his post here) about how he chose which movement he would dedicate himself to when there are so many choices out there. His post really hit home for me, because at this point in my life I feel sort of overwhelmed and unfocused when it comes to my own work dealing with social issues.  It's all so interesting and relevant. Should I focus on environmental sustainability, women's rights, prisoners reform, civil rights for Asian Americans, Muslims Americans, African Americans, Latinos, immigrant rights, youth organizing? yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes YES!!!


It's exhausting and frustrating to care about EVERYTHING, but here I am caring about EVERYTHING all the time. Seriously...all..the...time.

And it became much more difficult after moving to the West Coast. In New Jersey I thought I had it down...women's rights! That was my thing. I had lots of 'things' before, but after working at a anti-violence women's org for South Asian women I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to save women, stop violence and work towards equality and women's empowerment!

Gooo women's empowerment...or girls empowerment, whichever
But then I moved here; law school didn't work our and I couldn't get a job with any domestic violence organizations in this distressed economy. So I stumbled into work with refugees. So that's what I am working on now blogging, taking pictures and collecting narratives from these communities in Oakland. It's interesting work and I'm learning so much, and yes I am VERY busy.

Still I can't help wonder...what is my thing? Like my main thing. Women? refugees? what? I'd like to think that 'human' rights' is my 'thing', but that's so damn broad. Also, should the work I get paid to do match up with the work I volunteer for and the meetings I attend after hours?

I care about the South Asian community, because I'm South Asian. I care about women's empowerment, from literacy and development all the way to working to help women run for office and ensure their civic involvement. I care about domestic violence because I personally know of the terrible, traumatic and long lasting effects that violence has on individuals, families and communities.

And I care about the politics and policies that are behind these issues. I would ideally want to impact these policies or even contribute to the drafting of these policies.

My interest in politics has led me to spend this weekend in Lake Tahoe (where I am currently writing this blog entry) on a retreat with the East Bay Young Democrats, an organization under the California Young Democrats. I've been involved with progressive politics before in NJ, but have been disappointed by the Democratic party for awhile now. Mainly because I don't understand why Democrat leaders are so damn scared to do anything or take a real stand on anything. Maybe the recent Occupy movements are forcing them to get off their butts and push forth real change on behalf of the American people, I can only hope.

this was also an excuse to go to Tahoe....
How does all of this relate to 'my' movement, my personal hope to have a positive impact on the world? I am still (still!) figuring this out, but I can't help but feel that politics are about people and because of that politics will be something I will always be engaged in. The problem I really have is about where to put my time without burning out or being all over the place (me, all over the place? what a concept). This schizophrenic, twenty movements at once is probably causing me to be less effective. Having a handle on many different issues is interesting but maddening. Being in the Bay Area with opportunities galore only makes a decision to specialize harder.

What do I dooooooo??!
I want to make a difference, I want to be effective and genuine. I think it's time to start to figuring out what how to directly connect my core interests to the work I do. I am currently reading the classic "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and have recently re-joined the production of the South Asian Vagina Monologues this year. My heart has and is connecting me to empower and support women and girls on various levels, so that they may empower and improve their own communities. Choosing a movement isn't easy, but I'd rather be an activist that works hard on an issue rather than flutter all over the place while going nowhere. I'm learning a lot, and maturing (hopefully) so I hope that my dreams and passion to work with women will come out to be a big part of my life work. It already has, and I look towards a future where my efforts can become one of many steps on humanity's path towards improvement and progress.

One day day

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Stories of Others, the Stories of Us

I'm currently on a bus in New Jersey on my way to NYC after a beautiful sojourn through Northeastern PA. The Fall weather is breathtaking. I really miss it so much after living in Northern California for two years.

Plug for awesome little sister here
I am also stoked that this bus has wifi, which I discovered late into my journey...though maybe that was a good thing. I was actually able to take in the landscape instead of doing e-stuff.

Rohingya woman and child
I mostly took this trip out here to visit my sister for her birthday, but I am working as well. On Sunday I am meeting up with a Rohingya man originally from Burma who contacted me via facebook after checking out the different stories and photos I took of  Burmese activists in the Bay Area. I knew little about the Rohingya peoples and their plight, but I have been reading up on them lately to learn more. It has been a fascinating and sad process to learn of the oppressions this ethnic group has faced for so many years. But I want to hear his story, I want to hear directly from a Rohingya person to begin to know about him and his people.

In the past few months, I have listened to so many stories. Some from my new jobs (yes I have more than one now) where I am interviewing different people from Asian communities in the Bay Area and also from many students I interact with at the English Center, another non profit I work for. Everyone has a story and though I have my blogs, I have unfortunately been so busy of late that I have not had the time to write these narratives up. Hopefully this will change once I get a little better at time management ;-)

I have spoken with former youth gang members, who have overcome and are still overcoming hardships to reach their goals. I feel inspired by them but I am also worried, I'm scared that they may get cut down before their dreams take flight.

I recently met a young man from Sri Lanka who had his arm in a sling and found out that he had been injured in a bomb blast. He slowly lifted his sleeve to show me the scars of the attack, his skin-directly-on-bone upper arm with missing chunks of flesh that though healed, still cause so much pain.

Iranian Protestor 2009
I listened to stories of young activists who have been brutalized, tortured, stabbed and almost murdered in Iranian prisons. I have been told of great migrations taken by young men who hoped to save their lives, while leaving their loved ones and beloved lands behind.

author of Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind
Even while out celebrating with a friend during happy hour, I ran into a stranger who handed me a book that he had written called Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind. I went home and read it, and cried as I took in images of severe torture, fear and hope that the author relayed in his story of Algeria, and its brutal suppression of the Berber minority. It was his story and I was grateful that he shared it with me.

The Bay Area is rich in diversity with its many immigrant communities. Many of their lives play out like an Oscar winning film, a heart wrenching documentary, or a massive article out of Time magazine. But these people are real and they live next door or make your sandwiches or prescribe medication when you are sick. They may be your parents, your cousins, your

I have recently started to work at an organization that is looking to capture some of these stories through articles and photographs. I am grateful for this opportunity. As much as I love to talk, I also love to listen, share, learn and most importantly connect to human beings from all all over the earth. I have some more ideas of how to capture these stories, but I am trying to take things one step at a time.

Why do these stories matter? Who cares? Well outside of me, I'm not sure who cares, but it matters to me because every story told is a life uncovered, a violation uncovered, a brutality uncovered, inspiration uncovered. I may not be able to bring justice to oppressive situations around the world, but I can help give people a voice by being a conduit of information, empathy and understanding.

Maybe learning and connecting peoples' stories can change the world and bring justice to atrocities that may never find justice in courts. Giving word and sound to a situation gives it justice in my opinion, even in a small way, it names oppressions and exposes them.

Yes, yes it is..

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes on Sept. 11th – A 10 Year Anniversary

A photo I took at Ground Zero in 2005
It's mind boggling how insignificant this date was 10 years ago. September 11 might as well have been March 19, or February 5th, dates that would have maybe meant something if it were your birthday.

By now September 11th has become a symbol of so many things, so many memories and so much pain. It has become much more than a date. It has been made into a justification for war, for hate, for division. I wish that the memory of Sept. 11 would have been used for unity,  but 10 years later I cannot make that assertion.
Blonde highlights...never again
 On that September 11, 2001, I was a senior in high school in a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania.  I had blonde highlights and ironically, was probably wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. It was during the end of 1st period Biology class that an announcement was made over the loudspeaker about planes hitting building in New York. I have similar memories that other have, memories of confusion, unanswered questions and no idea as to what the hell was going on. Terrorist attacks were initially so far from my mind, that kind of scenario was something I saw in Die Hard, not in real life.

But this was real life, by my next class the towers were still there..then I saw them fall. It was like a dream, I felt like someone was making this up. I had visited the towers just about a week before, with my tourist minded relatives from Cali who had wanted to visit the WTC. Now it was dust, I saw it become dust right there, it was absurd, it wasn't real..but of course it was real. all of it.
I am grateful that after that day, teachers pulled me aside to tell me that if anyone said anything negative to me about my religious background (this was a small town with little diversity in middle America after all) to let them know, because it would not be tolerated. I luckily did not face such backlash, though so many others did around the US. I was thankful that teachers showed their concern to me, I did not expect that.

Now 10 years later,  I am an activist and have witnessed the ripples of change that have radiated from 9/11;  Not just the hate crimes but the groupthink mentality of us "Americans" against them "terrorists".  Government policy became openly and enthusiastically racist and Islampahobic. So many of suffered for this, both here and abroad.

Congressman Mike Honda speaking at the hearing, to left is Commissioner Nitasha Sawhney, California Commission on API Affairs, to his right: Assembly Member Paul Fong, Zahra Billoo from CAIR, and Amardeep Singh from The Sikh Coalition.
There have been different events lately that are pushing issues of Islamaphobia to the forefront. I attended a 9/11 Community Hearing in Mountain View, CA sponsored by the Unheard Voices of 9/11 project, where political leaders and community members came together to discuss and share stories that have impacted South Asian and Muslim communities in the years since 9/11. There were many speakers who faced harassment, discrimination and bullying in their lives due to the color of their skin or the prominence of their faith apparel. There was so much to stay; the meeting ran long as we were hungry to hear and to speak more about these issues.
speakers at the hearing
I am sometimes overwhelmed with emotion as I see the tireless efforts that organizations and people put forth to fight for their rights. To fight for equality and their right to live as Americans in environments that repeatably label them as the 'other'. I also feel some slight sense of victory as mainstream publications like the Washington Post mention the hearings and books are published on these issues. I wanted to give a particularly heartfelt plug for the book "Patriot Acts: A Narrative of Post 9/11 Justice".  The book is a collection of first hand narratives of different people who have had their human rights and civil rights violated during the "War on Terror". I am so grateful to someone like Dave Eggers, who is a famous writer, for establishing a publishing company and series that enabled the publishing of this book. Please read it, it made me tear up as I read it, the stories were so poignant, infuriating and relateable. Especially for me.

I wanted to include a quick passage from the book:
"Dehumanizing, or in this case, de-Americanizing individuals is often the first step toward justifying policies, laws and treatment that would otherwise offend our sensibilities"

On 9/11 I feel somber, sad and a little depressed as I think about the emotions I had watching the city I love suffer and buidings I admired and literally looked up to come crashing down.

It's traumatic for us, but healing does not consist of spreading hate, and we still have a lot of work to do.

I hope we can work together and grow as country because revenge has not all. Let's try to educate, communicate and speak up, and see if healing, instead of revenge, can drive our communities forward.

And I will end with a quote from a participant, Gurinder Ahluwahlia, at the 9/11 hearing.

"It does get better, it does."

simple but poignant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Government Meets Grassroots

Yay! now where are the jobs? Answer you politicians!

I have always been a big proponent of grassroots work leading to systematic change in policy.  Unfortunately, these two aspects do not intersect often enough; with there being a major disconnect between what takes place in congressional meetings and what is actually occuring on the ground, in our neighborhoods and communities.
Congresspeople on stage

Recently however, I have been attending meetings and open houses where members of the Obama administration and members of Congress have directly came out to hear the stories and issues that are occurring everyday in our communities. I am aware that these efforts may be related to re-election purposes, but regardless I think that listening to the concerns of communities is a step in a direction towards positive systemic change.
Congressman Mike Honda!
Last week I attended a Speakout for Good Jobs event, which was a townhall type meeting with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Raul Grijalva and Congressman Mike Honda (my favorite congressman!). The event was held in a massive church/worship space where members of the community lined up to speak about their grievances and concerns regarding employment, or more accurately, unemployment.

woman fighting for the rights of the disabled
And there were LOTS of grievances.
I didn't speak, though I have a lot to say from my personal experience about unemployment, but it was a valuable experience for me to attend something like this. I never attended a open house with congress members and I honestly wish that there could be more of these events. The people with the most concerns and the greatest need for help are most often the ones who are being silenced. These events allow members of the community to speak up, but is it enough?
Activist, community leader and best friend, Nwe Oo
I also attended another event last Thursday, where a collection of leaders from the local Burmese community  met with Daphne Kwok, Chair of President Barack Obama's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders, in downtown Oakland (to read additional info about the event, read this great article written by Oakland Digital, our gracious hosts). Many of the community leaders were refugees or were speaking on behalf of the Burmese refugee community in Oakland. Again, much of the rhetoric dealt with lack of jobs for refugees, the economy and problematic budget cuts that dealt serious blows to the well beings of high need individuals and families. The meeting was packed, with community members spilling onto the sidewalk outside the room. Different leaders took turns to
speak. Tluang Salai, a refugee from the Chin ethnic community and an advocate with the non-profit organization Catholic Charities relayed the problems faced by the Chin people of Burma, especially since the numbers of Chin that will be resettled in Oakland will go up drastically in the coming months (stay tuned for my upcoming interview on Salai and the Chin community on my other blog Us Ordinary People). Nwe Oo, a Rakhine refugee and Burmese community activist thanked Daphne for her time to listen to the needs and concerns of the community, especially due to the lack of attention that Burmese cultural groups usually receive.
Burmese community in Oakland

The most poignant part of this event was the unity shown by the different Burmese groups that attended the event. Burma is a country with a very complex and fragmented history, full of political strife and military oppression. Though the diverse minority groups within the country have all faced severe repression from the government, there are considerable differences within different ethnic groups. This event brought everyone in one room, with the common goal of improving the lives of their people, and in this instance they were all sharing their stories and concerns together.

It is promising to see government affiliated representatives directly meet with the people who are directly affected by policy changes, but obviously that is far from enough. What remains to be seen is WHAT will happen with this information. Will it lead to policy change? Will the suffering of working class and lower class men and women be addressed?
The forces shaping policy know the issues, they have heard it from the mouth of the people in our communities. But knowing is not enough, the proof is in action and in fighting for the rights of these communities; fighting against big businesses and corporations that are swimming in assistance money that has not trickled down to our communities.

Community members with Daphne Kwok
Knowledge is power, but action is the tool for change. It is time to use these tools to help the people who need it the most.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Divisions, home and abroad

I have been going to tons of cultural festivals lately due to my consulting gig doing outreach for a non profit English school called The English Center. I'm getting my money and eating awesome food that I never knew existed, so I'm happy.

Thus past weekend I attended an Eritrean festival in Oakland. Some people have asked me "what is an Eritrean?" So to clarify, Eritrea is a country in East Africa that borders Sudan and Ethiopia, and lie across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia. See map here.

Back to this particular festival. I was excited because a.) I knew close to nothing about Eritrea and got to learn loads from my highly energetic Eritrean intern and b.) FOOD! So there I was rubbing shoulders with members of the Eritrean community, taking some cool pictures, drinking honey wine and passing out flyers in Tigrinya (one of the language of Eritrea) when a riot breaks out.

Ok maybe not a full on riot, but pretty close.

Protestors marching through
As I'm sitting down, drinking spiced coffee under a tent while discussing community with an elderly Eritrean man, I suddenly hear shouting and loud noises, as if something is being struck. A protest had come into the festival grounds. People were shouting and holding up giant protest signs, and were using sticks to bang on the signs. The signs stated things like "Egypt, Tunisia, Eritrea" and "Human Rights for Eritrea". People from the festival began to clash with the protestors. There was pushing and shoving and cameras were knocked out of people hands, Everyone was shouting, in Tigrinya. I sat back in shock and had a sudden desire to shoot pictures, but then again, I didn't feel like getting my SLR knocked out of my hand. I also didn't want to be disrespectful to the sensitive situation, particularly because I was an outsider.

Let's backtrack, why was there a riot? Between Eritreans in Oakland? This wasn't downtown Asmara, this was Broadway and 42nd.

President/dictator, depends on whom you ask
For many of you that don't know, many Eritreans are divided between pro government and anti government factions. Pro government factions support the Eritrean leader Isaias Afewerki, a man who helped Eritrea get its independence. Government supporters exalt Afewerki for the part he played in independence, while those who oppose the government point out the abysmal human rights record that Eritrea holds and the gross violation of the rights of free speech (Eritrea is the only African country with no privately owned news media) and the troubling imprisonment of journalists as problematic, and are calling for freedom and change. This is the cliff notes version of the conflict, for more in depth information, read local Bay Area reporter Matt O'Briens article, which I coincidentally read right before the festival.

Dancing and celebrating to counter the protest
I watched as Government supporters blasted Eritrean music and began dancing jubilantly while waving the Eritrean flag. I saw one woman get on a chair and kiss a picture of the president's face on a T-shirt.  It was as if the dancing, the flag waving and celebrating would hush up the protestors who stood together as a wall, holding banners and megaphones.

I got out of there soon after that. Good timing, because that was approximately when half of the Oakland Police force showed up (a bit excessive maybe?). As I walked away, I realized that this was my second time witnessing an almost riot/political clash. The first such event I witnessed was in Haiti, where I was subsequently tear gassed by UN (I'm sure it was unintentional...I think), but you can read about that on my old school Xanga site.

When I think of what occurred at this festival, I wonder about what immigrants figuratively bring with them when they migrate to the United States. Customs are brought of course, but so are politics. Though political situations may reside miles and seemingly worlds away, they still play such a big role in the psyche of many immigrants. Often, these situations are the cause of the immigration in the first place. The distance from homelands many not seem so great to many who are here.

In the article that Matt wrote, he referred to people who left Eritrean churches and even instances of family division in Oakland due to these political issues. It's complex and sad, but not unusual. Many groups in the United States, even after years of being in this country, deeply feel such divisions. From Iranians who left during the Islamic Revolution in the late 70's to the Isreal/Palestinian issues that fan further separations between Muslim and Jewish Americans to the continued animosities that people from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds feel in the USA, many divisions have been 'imported' with their populations. 

But Arabs and Israelis both love hummus and have a penchant for facial hair...stop the hate and eat hummus!
I wonder what children from different cultures and new generations will choose for themselves when it comes to issues such as these. How deep will these political events - these histories - play in their lives as they grow? Will they hold the same zeal as their parents or will these elements fade the further they are in distance and time from from the lands of their parents and ancestors.

Though these aspects may depends on families and individuals - not everyone is political or divided of course - this past weekend brought up questions regarding generations and the continuation of  cultural, religious and political animosities. I have seen many of these divisions in my life, even amongst people like myself, who are children of second generation immigrants. There is a line between assimilating and holding on to cultural roots, but are holding on to the conflicts of our forefathers and current situations in the homelands of our parents also a part of our collective future? Only time will tell.

Eritrean girl on an iphone while the protest continues on in the background

 Or maybe they will be too busy on iphones, facebook and twitter...there's hope after all ;-).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Muslim?

Everyone, apparently (Happy Ramadan by the way).
No Aladdin! not you too....
From the ease with which derogatory comments are made about Muslims/Arabs/people perceived as Muslim throughout the media to the bigoted protests that have the open support of elected officials, Islamophobia is alive in well in the United States.

Ten years have passed since 9/11 and things haven't really changed, in fact they may have gotten worse. There was a recent NY times article about one man's effort to bring down the threat of Shariah laws in this country ( It didn't occur to me that shariah threats were such a big issue in Islamic hotspots like Oklahoma ::heavy sarcasm::).  The scary thing is that this is not just some yahoo trying to enact meaningless policy as a fear tactic, it's that he is getting a platform to present these 'issues' to federal policy makers. THAT is the scary part. When bigotry drives policy or is able to grab the attention of our government, there is a very real cause for concern.
So what do we do? I don't hear a national outcry for the rights of brown people. Some pockets of brown people are calling for our rights, but who is listening? Maybe it's up for us to 'police' our own, because you know, Muslims are so centralized, homogeneous and united that it's easy to just have a huge meeting and tell the extremists to cut it out.

sharing is caring
No, we need raise our voices and unify our efforts. Struggling against Islamophobia is not going to work in small pockets of passionate activists and community members. There needs to be a collective push back, a push to say that this is not okay and that it is unacceptable. That as Americans, we find this unacceptable. I recently joined up with coalition of organizations called AMEMSA (Arab American Middle Eastern South Asian African), say that ten times fast (I've gotten pretty good at it myself). Its a convening of different groups from  organizations that represent communities affected by Islamophobia; from African Muslims to Sikhs, who have basically become 'default' Muslims in the eyes of hate mongers. I represented ASATA, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, a radical group of South Asian activists in the Bay Area.
I am proud to have been affiliated with groups such as SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) and all of the great work they do nationally to stand up for the civil rights of South Asians. However, AMEMSA was very special to me in that this group came together for the common purpose of standing up to xenophobia, while having such an impressively diverse membership.  When people make bigoted comments about African Americans, there is a great uproar. There are similar, if not greater outcries when anti Semitic incidents occur. Islamophobic comments bring about concerned responses from groups such as SAALT and ASATA, but what about everyone else? Where is the outcry or major media attention?
This is what we are working on. To work together to not just be the 'other'. We are American. Some like me have been born and raised here, others, like a fellow colleague I met from Cote'd Ivoire, came here as an adult and stated that "When Africans come here, in our minds we are going back. But if you look at the statistics, no one is going back."  I include that quote because some come here with dreams of a better life and a new home, while many intend to come here, get success, then leave. Regardless, we are all still here, and we are Americans, and the decisions made by those in charge in this country affects us all equally, regardless of what the pundits on Fox News would have us believe.
intersections, cross listings and lots of circles
AMEMSAA met last week at a convening of the groups, where we spent two days discussing, brainstorming and yes, even majorly disagreeing with one another. Throughout all of this, the thing that struck me the most was the passion of the members I saw within the room; the passion for changing the status quo, the passion to make sure that our civil and human rights are respected. During the meetings, I would figuratively take a step back to look around me and see people wearing turbans sharing ideas with former political refugees, to women wearing hijab bringing up points to members from Africa. It was really something to behold. I did feel grateful to be here, and yes be in this country, because this kind of space would be almost impossible to have in many parts of the world.

We have a long way to go. This may seem like the beginning because there is so much to do and such a long distance to cover, but I think that we can do it. Despite our differences, I believe that we can accomplish positive changes as a united front against intolerance and bigotry.

yay diversity!
In a perfect society, civil rights wouldn't be a term because equality would be ingrained. However in the real world, strides towards civil rights for our communities will not truly occur until we stand up for ourselves. And that is just what we are doing.

"We gotta reject the bin everyone is trying to put us in" -  AMEMSA member

We were given pipe cleaners to play with, so I made lots of colorful, unified stick people. I was in a very 'we are the world' mood

Sunday, July 24, 2011

27, Dazed and Confused

My 27 birthday came and went and to put it simply, it was da bomb (90's throwback lingo!). I spent the first day gallivanting around on the Alameda county fairgrounds with my man, eating copious amounts of oversized foods and going on rides that made me want to throw up. It was great. My birthday gathering consisted of an eclectic mix of wonderful folks who came together for a potluck where people really delivered (fresh baked fudge chocolate cookies? mini fresh baked love muffins? heavenly). My favorite part was where I blew out my birthday candles with a gaggle of my friends kids...very cute moment.
But honestly being 27 is anti-climatic. It's the age that leads up to that dreaded 3-0, but other than that it really doesn't seem that significant. I mostly feel like "I'm 27, how come I don't feel like an adult". Which I don't, I have adult responsibilities and expectations but I am amazed by just how immature I feel. Weren't things supposed to change as I grew older? Where is the maturity, the insight, the confidence, the wisdom?

This is my 27 year old wisdom: I don't know shit. And when I think I do, I'm just fooling myself.

There, the enlightened statement of the year. I think that this feeling is not unique to me by any means. It is a sentiment that is carried by many in my generation; by the overgrown kids who are still figuring out who they are and what they were meant to be, the ones who are living with their parents because the economy just sucks that badly and the others who have dreams but no gameplan. I look at some of my peers, the ones who successfully graduated law school or medical school and I see the shattered dreams of my parents who are dismayed at my lack of a masters degree.  Of course I am happy for my successful friends, but part of me just wants to kick pebbles in frustration. I wanted to be a doctor, I was Pre-Med for most of my undergraduate career, but that imploded, I am just not analytical and good at numbers. I wanted to go to law school, and I worked my ass off to again have that dream implode. People tell me that I can still go after that dream, but seriously...yea right.

I can relate...
Failing sucks, disappointment is even harder to deal with. The disappointment of my parents sure, but the disappointment in myself is perhaps the worst part. Where is my place? Where is my career headed? Is changing the world just some crazy pipe dream of an idealistic brown girl who looks to the stars but just falls on her face? I've started to do some consulting for non profits, which is sort of cool. I get freedom to do work I care about, and even have the space to be creative. But to what end? It's not a solid defined career path, like being a doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, chef, tattoo artist, circus clown etc.

I want to help people, my passion lies within the field of human rights and it always has been. I wanted to heal people as a doctor, and travel to third world countries to help those who had the least access to health care. That didn't work out. I wanted to be an attorney that stood up for the rights of people who were denied justice due to their economic status, skin color, ethnicity or all of the above. That didn't pan out either.

Oh the dreams I had (Disclaimer: this is not me, but close enough)
But what I have been good at since I was a child was art, writing and poetry. I never saw any of those things as skills, just as something I was good at on the side of my efforts to want to become a doctor. Growing up with Bangladeshi parents, art was never encouraged as anything more than something that was fun to do.

Now at 27 I've decided to stop fighting to accomplish things that I am just not good at. I am passionate about human rights and I love art, so now I am combining the two via blogging, photography and self initiated projects that I am passionate about and that may be beneficial to others someday.

I might fail at all of that, which is a very scary thought. I am envious of you out there that have worked hard to get a stable career, to get an education that can propel you towards a decent income and stability. But for the others out there who are still figuring out their direction in life, we're in the same boat. I hope that we can all inspire each other to follow our passions, wherever they may lead.
same sinking boat?

I am doing what I love, who knows where it will lead. What will I feel like at 28? at 30? 40? Somehow I have a feeling that I may not know anymore than I know now, but hopefully if I stay true to my goals, my dreams will come true.

And hopefully so will yours.

This is my hopeful really

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Ooooh!! Aaaahhhh!!
Fourth of July is here and I am excited to be leaving my home soon to attend a BBQ and watch fireworks in San Francisco. I haven't really watched an Independence Day celebration in the Bay Area yet, I usually go with my mother to watch fireworks every year, it's been a tradition of sorts. I picked up an intense love of fireworks from my mother, who excitedly took me to any 4th of July fireworks show she could find as I was growing up. My family and I moved often, but regardless, my mother would find those fireworks and she would add her own "ooh, ahhh!!" soundtrack every time the lights burst above us.

I can't..too cute...Mongolian Baby!!
On the Fourth of July, I am reminded of the cultural diversity that the United States encompasses, because to me that is what the United States is about. Yes there is controversy regarding human rights issues found in immigration and in the racial inequities of our criminal justice system; but there are also aspects of hope, beauty and yes freedom within the United States. An example of this was this past Saturday, when I attended a Mongolian Naadam Festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Naadam, as a participant explained to me, is a summer festival that is a big part of Mongolian culture. The day was pretty epic, with people walking around in beautiful, extravagant outfits and a skit taking center stage with masks, dancing and booming music to go along with the action. I took lot of picture of cute babies in traditional clothes, and ate some amazing roasted lamb and traditional fried dumplings called buuz which were ridiculously good.

::gasp:: Get in Ma belly!!
As I watched the festival, I reflected upon how lucky I was to be in a diverse place like the Bay Area, to learn directly about different cultures that I had been unfamiliar with before (seriously, I really didn't know too much about Mongolian culture till that day, so it was great learning experience!).
My days with the Bengali Students Association at Rutgers University, @ our annual cultural show Tigerfest
My old home, the NJ/NYC Metropolitan area was similar in this respect as I learned of so many different cultures through my friends and during my time at Rutgers University, where I would attend cultural events representing many different areas of the world.

Aztec dancers at CA state capital on Immigrant Day 2011
We are lucky to have this in the United States. Here, people can have festivals, wear cultural clothes and dance and worship in the way they choose. Yes it's not perfect, yes there is xenophobia, Islamaphobia and bigotry, but we can still practice and express our cultural identities. That is a wonderful aspect about being an American. There are so many other areas of the world where this kind of expression is unheard of or even illegal. In Saudi Arabia for example, you cannot enter the country if you are Jewish (or ride planes going through the country for that matter), and women cannot move freely outside of their homes. In China, there are severe crackdowns on many different groups whom the government deems as undesirable or culturally subversive.
Mongolian festivals, Burmese Festivals, Bengali cultural dance performances, Aztec dancers and so many other examples of cultural expressions that I have seen and experienced make me feel very connected to my fellow human beings. I cherish this and I cherish that we have the freedom to show off our cultures and integrate into American life as well. It's not always perfect, but it can be there for us to appreciate.

Happy Fourth of July!!