Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Unforgettable 2013...

Every year is different for everyone, some people have been happy that 2013 is over. I'm never happy that a year is over, I'm pretty indifferent either way, but I have to say that for me 2013 has been a monumental year in my life. After having some major struggle years in 2010 and 2011, and an in between year of 2012, this past year really saw me take off. Many of you may know that Facebook has a sort of "year in review" timeline option, I finally looked at mine and here's a sample of my "Top Events" of 2013.

Alright that was my year, see ya!

Just kidding, but these were definitely highlights from a year full of them. Getting engaged and married within such a short period of time (we were officially engaged in May and got married in July, craziness!) was a whirlwind for sure. It was a wave of family, love and emotion that picked me up and took me for an unforgettable ride. In the end, my wedding in July was one of the happiest memories of my life, full of friends, love, laughter, tons of bling, and more laughter. 

Yup, this was my wedding in a nutshell
My sister is the one that made my wedding happen, and though it increased her blood pressure significantly, I couldn't have asked for a better sister and friend even though she wanted to toss me off a cliff by the time my wedding actually happened. I have to also give so much love to my parents who accepted Roberto 110% after finding out that we wanted to spend our lives together, despite him coming from a different cultural and religious background. Though he did convert to Islam of his own volition, it still boggles my mind that after 20+ years of hiding boyfriends and hyperventilating at the thought of my parents ever knowing that I had some romantic interest in the male species that they would be so loving and accepting of him as their new son. I also reflect on my friends,  who came out of the woodwork to join in with my last meeting wedding insanity. Though I could only invite a handful of friends who could have actually made it do it being so last minute and the wedding having limited funds, I will never forget how my best friend, Taz, who I've been friends since I was 4, drove up 15 HOURS one way (then back) to be there for me. She literally drove 30 hours total to come up to Northeast Pennsylvania and be driven insane by my family. That's true love. 


My other homeboy for life, Arshad, also drove up for hours upon hours from Florida to join me. That's real friendship, and their presence there along with my dear friends from childhood and college on my special day was one of the most beautiful things I ever experienced in my life and I will never forget it.

Of course the last person I thank and reflect on is my husband, my Roberto. We were together for 4 years before our wedding, and he was the Chewbacca to my Han in this entire whirlwind. When he proposed to me in Alamo Park in San Francisco by surprising me with so many of my family and friends there, neither of us could even accept the engagement because we were so choked up. I cried like a maniac, only because I was so happy that we would be together...and that he locked that ish DOWN with style.

This is me making my ugly crying face when Roberto proposed
He accepted my family, my culture and religion I grew up with so graciously, and has made my parents so happy. It's funny how a relationship can progress beyond your wildest dreams, but ours did. We worked on our challenges together, we went through a cross continental relationship, losing jobs, gaining cats, hiding our love from my parents due to a fear of their non acceptance and multiple moves to be together. He is my partner in crime and I cannot wait to start 2014 with him as my Mr. Hussain.

My family, Roberto and I after getting our marriage license

Outside of the awesomeness in my personal life 2013 saw great leaps and dreams fulfilled in terms of the work I do with social justice and in my professional life. Around the time I got married, I received wonderful news that I had been selected for the National Governing Board of a women's organization I admire immensely, NAPAWF (National Asian Women's Political Forum). I joked with the Executive Director of NAPAWF, Miriam Yeung, that I think was more elated about joining the board than my own wedding (sorry Roberto!). But it has been life altering for me to be on a national board, working with women all across the country to advance the rights and voices of Asian Pacific Islander Women in a national context. I could not be more thrilled about this.

NAPAWF ladies and I lobbying on Capitol Hill for Women's Reproductive Rights!
In 2013 I also joined the board of the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus of the California Democratic Party, my first time on any state political board, it was also cool to actually be voted into the position (which means that people temporarily lost their minds and actually picked me). This year, I also saw leaps and bounds in an organization I helped start, the Black Young Democrats of the East Bay, which was chosen as our county's "Democratic Club of the Year". Not bad for an organization which started just 2 years ago as a vision of promoting Black young leadership in the East Bay, California. I am always so proud of them and am honored to be part of their leadership.  

Black Young Dems will rock your activist socks off, and look good doing it
This year saw me doing intense outreach to marginalized communities on behalf of the Affordable Care Act, it has been a challenging journey that has been well documented in the press, but I am grateful for the opportunity to reach out on a grassroots level to make healthcare information more accessible.

  A collection of thank you notes from Asian American Studies students at SF State University for an Affordable Care Act presentation I did there

Though 2013 has been better for me than most years in recent memory, it also brought the loss of a person whom I cared about a lot.  I know that getting older will only bring more loss like this, and it is not something I am looking forward to. In April, my dear friend Polly passed away. I wrote about her in my previous blog post. She had health problems for awhile, but her death was sudden and unexpected for me. Though I miss her, I have gotten to know her family after her death and feel a sense of peace knowing that she was surrounded in life by so many who loved her dearly.

Grateful to have had her in my life

2014 is due to arrive very soon. In the past two weeks Roberto and I have crossed three state lines to spend the last vestiges of the year with our family and friends. I am so grateful for having his family be MY family, as we spent the best Christmas I have ever had in upstate New York. I am so grateful to have family that have accepted me wholly within their fold and I cannot believe that overnight I have so many new people who will part of my life forever. In these waning hours of 2013, I will be spending NYE with my mom at a brown peoples party aka a party full of other Bengali people that my parents are dragging my husband and I to. Still, I am happy to spend it with them, though at midnight I won't be able to give Roberto a kiss (too scandalous in these circles).

Having a pajama fam jam with Berto's family, my sister and her boyfriend in upstate New York

This year will be a year of transition since I am going to move back to the East Coast this summer. This is something a few of my friends know, but it will be news to some. This decision has been a long time coming, in a sense I sort of got "stuck" out West due to a terrible economy and had wanted to move back much sooner. Though I moved out to the Bay Area 4 years ago with love and stars in my eyes, I knew that the move would be temporary, that in the end I would come back home to the East Coast to be with my family and settle down (well as much as someone like me can settle down).

Woohoo! Jersey! Jersey!
I could not be more excited for the New Year, to move back to a home that I have missed so much for 4 years. I admit that though I am a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of moving across country again, I know that it is just another step to having my dreams come true. Here's to 2014, a year of having dreams come true!


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Season of Love & Remembrance

What does a Brown, Muslim girl know about Christmas really? It wasn't something my family celebrated with me as a kid, though I have a sneaking suspicion that my mom really, REALLY wanted to celebrate it but was just hiding that fact. She used to tell me that it was a "Christian" holiday and so as Muslims, it wouldn't be right to celebrate, or get a Christmas tree. Yet, she would buy Christmas ornaments like crazy (this wasn't helped by the fact that she worked at a Department store and got crazy discounts on all things Christmas). Since we had no tree to hang the ornaments, we would hang them around the house randomly with thumbtacks.  I remember when I was 9, I wanted a Christmas tree so badly that I ripped a branch off a pine tree near my home, stuck it in an empty flower pot and hung up paper ornaments on it that I drew with crayons. It was the saddest Christmas tree ever, Charlie Brown ain't got nothing on a confused Christmas loving Muslim kid.

I feel ya Charlie Brown, I feel ya...

Now as an adult, I embrace all things Christmas. Perhaps not the insane consumerism, but as a holiday I love it! To me it's not religious as all (since, well I'm as secular as you can get) but just another fun holiday where I get to do fun things, get a tree, exchange gifts and eat myself into an unhealthy BMI number.


Okay, I'll be honest, the holidays do bring out more for me. It is  time for me to remember to count my blessings, to spend quality time with loved ones and reflect on the year that was before New Years.

The hardest thing about this year has been losing someone I love. That is always the hardest thing in life to me, always. My dear friend, Pauline Cabello, or as I knew her, Polly, passed away this past April. The saddest part for me is that I didn't even know she passed away until October, an entire 6 months of her not being on this planet with me having no idea. I only found out when I decided to hit her up to check out what she was doing for Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) this year. I usually spent the day with her, and when I turned to her Facebook to see what she would be doing I was met with message after message of people missing her. My heart completely broke. I was immediately wracked with guilt that has still not left me. HOW could I NOT know that she was gone? Though we didn't talk every week, we usually saw each other a couple of times a year and kept in touch rather frequently on Facebook. She always liked my statuses and photos, and we messaged each other. We even messaged each other about 2 weeks before she died, with me complaining about traffic tickets. Maybe that's why I didn't think she would pass away so soon. Her health wasn't great but her death was sudden and in the blink of an eye she was gone. It was a blink that I missed.

Polly and I at a Dia De Los Muertos festival in the Fruitvale, Oakland CA in 2011

Pauline was older than me, almost a grandmother type, but she really had a young soul. Her energy and positivity just radiated from her, she was always so active. It was hard to tell her age because she had the energy of a twenty-something! I met her through my husband, whom she met while they were both in the ceramics program at a community college. My husband had just gotten out of the Marines and was having  tough time adjusting back to civilian life. She came into his life and encouraged him in his art and in leadership. He became President of their college's ceramics guild due to her encouragement. He told me that she was there when he needed him, especially during a time when many people weren't. That will always mean something to him, I hope that Polly realized that.

Painting Polly's face the last time I saw her <3 comment-3--="">

She came out to all of my husbands art shows, shows that even his family didn't come to, but she was there, every time. Though I didn't know anyone when I first moved here, she was one of Roberto's friends who immediately embraced me and was so genuinely sweet and friendly to me from the first time I met her. We struck up a friendship through Roberto but continued it on our own. I will always remember my last memory of spending Dia De Los Muertos with her last year at an event she organized. There was music, hot chocolate and a beautiful exhibit, all of which she organized. I remember painting her face for her, she was so excited to have me do that. When I celebrated that year, I never imagined that a year later I would be mourning her as a loved one who had passed, as another person whose name I would commemorate during the day of the dead.

With Roberto at his last art show
What also hurt me is that I didn't get to join in any of the memorial celebrations of her life. I didn't have any mutual friends with her outside of my husband, so no one could let me know. I was grappling with lost, crying randomly at night wracked with guilt and sadness at not seeing her again. I was especially sad because she never got the chance to see Roberto and I get engaged and married. She would have been so happy for us, she was so supportive to us and loves us so much as a couple.

So I was happy to find out that a group of friends of hers would have a small celebratory holiday gathering where she would be honored.

I joined the gathering this past weekend, and am so glad I did. After someone passes on, closure and commemoration is really for the living, a way for someone to come to terms with their sadness and address the pain they have inside . What I loved the most about the gathering was that it was full of fun and laughter, just like Polly herself. I was able to meet friends of Polly who knew her from when she was a teenager or even younger. I met her family, including her sister and daughter, and was told great stories of her childhood, like the time she punched out bullies on behalf of her little brothers, her time as a roadie and her time being a "Lush Woman" who joined in these parties. I was able to see another side of Polly, I was able to see her again through her loved ones, and that was very special.

Lush women party! Coz they keep it real!

Thank you to all of Polly's friends and family who responded to me and let me into their lives with Polly. It really means the world and gives me some sense of peace. Like I mentioned before, Polly was an artist. I loved seeing her proudly display her beautiful and creative artwork during the displays I attended. Her family let me know that I could take one of her pieces to keep, to always have and remember her. That means a lot to me, I hope to always display her work, and when someone asks me about it, I can tell them about her and what she meant to me. This way she can always live on, through my stories and memory.

I will never forget you

I love you Polly, I am so sad that you aren't with us to celebrate the holidays. I am sorry I won't see your positive smiling face. I will miss all of your invites to fun events. Thank you for the support and memories, Roberto and I will never forget you!

Happy Holidays to her family and to all of you and your families this holiday season.