Monday, October 20, 2014

The Long Journey Home

New Jersey bound! Who drives a Prius dragging a trailer behind it almost 3000 miles? These weirdos right here

I moved back to the East Coast, so you probably thought that this blog was over, huh? Especially since I mostly started it 5 (!) years ago to detail my new adventures on the West Coast. Well since I can't shut up that notion is out the window, I haven't even come close to running out of things to say!

I left the Bay Area to move back to New Jersey on August 18, 2014. I moved to the Bay Area on August 16, 2009. So I was there for almost EXACTLY 5 years. Around the time I was leaving I was going to write this huge blog post reflecting on my time in the Bay and all of the crazy, insane things I went through, and what it all meant....but then I got tired.

Because I was pregnant.

Yes, two days before Roberto and I left on our road trip to drive cross country back home I found out. It was nuts, it was unexpected, but seriously, knowing me, what else could you expect?

You would expect a random Naderto baby, that's what
I could go into what the last five years in a brand new land, far away from all of my friends and family meant. Even now, after living back in the East Coast for almost two months, I still feel like I'm barely unpacking all that I've experienced. But then I realize something, I don't need to share all that right now BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT THIS ENTIRE BLOG IS ABOUT. Is it a chronicle of my struggles, my musings, my experiences outlining all of the cool stuff I did and the confusing ideas I had as to where my path would lead. So if you want to know what the last 5 years were like, you have pages of blog posts to enjoy :-)
The gist of it is this though, my five years in California basically beat the adulthood into me. Which is not what most people would imagine when they think of California. Hey, it's the Golden state, full of sunshine and happy chill people that hang out at beaches, eat organically and do yoga all day. Okay some of that is actually true, but I moved to California for one person, and that person was Roberto. I had no other people, no community, no friends! He was it! On top of that I got stuck in the economic downturn and ended up jobless for a year. A whole torturous yet wonderful year where I think I gave myself multiple ulcers while desperately trying to discover my true passions and direction.

And direction came slowly, but it came from all over the place. I became heavily involved in local California politics, then state and national politics. I was elected to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, I helped co-found the Black Young Democrats of the East Bay (which to this day is one of the things I have been involved with that I am the most proud of). I served on a gazillion boards, I fought for American Muslim Civil Rights, I organized with South Asian groups, I worked with and taught refugee communities, I ran an inner city program for black and brown youth, I blogged like crazy, I read and wrote poems about and with South Asian women on stage in San Francisco. I joined fellowships. I was appointed to a State Assembly Women's committee, and all this random craziness led to me being recognized on a GOOD 100 list of activists. I made friends, a whole gang of them. I have proof that they exist, they came out en mass for my West Coast wedding. I made a new West Coast mom and West Coast sister. I gained an entire family where I worked, the first time that's ever happened at a job for me.

Some more family I've adopted along the way

I also had my first major mental and emotional melt down on the West Coast. It never got that bad until I was in California, alone, jobless, friendless and just absolutely, completely and utterly lost and broke...oh and did I mention how broke I was?

But  I survived you California! I did! And you made me strong as hell. Now I am incubating a bun of awesomeness, I have a  husband and Prius with over 130,000 miles on it, and two of the most amazing cats in the world to show for my time. I have friends I will never forget or stop loving because of it.

And now I am back home, a somewhat different person, a strangely adult person. Perhaps more worldly, and probably bit crazier than before, but either way, I am irrevocably changed. 

This past weekend, I spent time with a family who adopted me and who I lived with for two years straight after college and before moving to the Bay Area. I had dinner at a home I first visited eight years ago. As I pulled into the driveway of this home I couldn't help but reflect on the 22 year old that showed up to that home eight years ago. That person was so full of fear and confusion as to what the future held. I had been single for almost three years at that point and saw any semblance of a romantic relationship as a traumatic lesson in futility. I came to that home in someone else's Prius. I didn't have a car, an apartment, or a job. I was a lost leaf floating haplessly in the wind. 

My East Coast family
Contrast that to this Sunday. Now I was driving up in my own car, married and expecting, with a full time job, my own apartment and though I am still wracked with uncertainty, I have taken it as a fact of life. None of us really know where we are going, and maybe, just maybe I have started to make peace with that.

Home has been a very winding road back, but the person who showed up to this home eight years later would not have been this person today without my five years in California. You've left a mark, West Coast, home may be where the heart is, but I realize that my heart is actually scattered, amongst people I love all across the country. And maybe I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nadia 3.0

Often, younger people speak about how 'old' they feel, sites like Buzzfeed post multiple nostalgia lists where Generation X/Yer's wax poetic about how ancient we are.

SRSLY THO GUYS, can you believe BSB is this old now?? WE R SO ANCIENT

There's a great quote that I read stating that "Growing old is a privilege denied to many".

I've lost enough amazing people in my life to realize that this sentiment is very true, so I will very much spare people complaints of how old I feel, since I'm not all. That is until I hang out with teenagers and college students, because then I realize I just want to yell at them to turn down their music and get off my lawn.

Get away from me with your YOLO

What I will say is that I am happy my 20's are over...seriously, SO happy that it's over.

I feel like not enough people my age actually think that, most are pretty devastated that their 20's have come and gone. Perhaps because they held our college days, when people were young, sexy, wild and free? Maybe some people had hot love affairs, or just affairs, or traveled around the world, went to awesome concerts and partied their nights away?

I had an amazing college experience in my 20's, to this day it held some of my best experiences ever. I partied, not too hard, but yes had great social times.

But I'm going to keep it real, my 20's were HORRIBLE. If you asked me to define my 20's, I would say that that it was defined by trauma, uncertainty, insecurity, fear, heartbreak...and more trauma.

If I could go back in time and see my bright, shining, happy-go-lucky face as a 20 year old, I would grip myself by the shoulders and say "I am so sorry, but everything will go to hell, over and over again, and then it will go to hell again".
And if my 20 year old self looked to me for comfort or advice to rely on during these trying times, I would just say:

Because that's all I could have done is braced myself! There was no wisdom or good advice that would have made any of it easier to handle. Seeing my family go through unbelievable fathoms of despair for YEARS as my mentally ill father was set up and sent to jail for a victimless crime, from when I was 21-27 off and on, to going through intense romantic heartache and confusion, to having no economic or job security and private loans that threatened to financially drown me forever; I have to say that making it to my 30's has been an ACCOMPLISHMENT.

In my 20's I tried to hold it together as our systems worked to decimate my family, I tried to hold it together when I got a call from my fathers prison because prison guards beat him so badly that he almost died. I also thought that I would go to medical school, then law school before realizing (after taking all the important exams) that the reason I could hardly pass any of them was because of a long term undiagnosed learning disorder...due to, you guessed it, severe emotional trauma.

I moved cross country at age 26 for love. I thought coming to California would be a glorious adventure full of sunny days, warm nights and fulfilled dreams. Instead what I got was a completely collapsed economy and a very ill suited job experience that drove me into unemployment with no benefits until I fought for, and won them back myself (with the help of an angel from a local union). What I also got was no friends, no jobs, and backed up loans...oh yea and a father that was put back into prison by a corrupt legal structure.

my 20's

It's nuts to think that a good chunk of my 20's was me hoping to not end up homeless and crazy. I wish that was an exaggeration. The past decade broke me, plain and simple.

But I made it, know why? Because of people, because of people who loved me fiercely and completely. People who believed in me even when I was literally and figuratively scrunched up into  fetal position. People who let me live in their homes for free, people who paid for my therapy, friends who stayed up with me all night to hear the same complaints and fears over and over again without complaining...not even once.

Because of mentors and bosses who took a chance on me to hire me and give me the space to grow and explore my talents. Because of people who encouraged me when nothing I did seemed to go the right way. Because of a man who drove me crazy and who I drove crazy, but who decided that I was still the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

Somehow, it's worked out so far
These are the reasons that I am 30 today, because of all of the love, care, devotion and time from countless people who each gave me gifts of hope that grew big enough to give me the strength, perseverance and  fortitude that I hold today.

Sometimes you need people to tell you that you are good enough a zillion times when life is constantly beating you down and showing you the exact opposite of that. I was lucky to have those people. They helped me pick up the pieces until I become some half-healed cobbled up proverbial Frankenstein's monster. In pieces but at least somewhat put together.

As my 30's begin I have to say that I am relieved and excited. I have more confidence, I am in the best shape of my life (take that, hot 20's), and frankly I KNOW that hard times will be ahead, I know that life is full of landmines. But this time, no matter how bad the storm will be, I will have the support and love that will get me through. I will be faster, better, stronger, I will be Nadia 3.0.

I plan to evolve like a Pokemon

And more than that, I hope to be the one that pays it forward and supports others, who makes the world a better place, who is there for people that need it the most. I have gotten way too much love and kindness to not do this. Me not helping others would be a huge injustice to those who helped me survive to be who I am today.

This will be an epic decade, whether there be storms or sunshine, this time I know that I will not be broken.

And if I am, I will just have to patch up again, I've been put back together before you know...

So to recap, my 20's were like this:

And I hope to make my 30's like this:

So bring it on.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Journey So Far...So Good

I sometimes reflect on my postings over the last 2-3 years. I re-started writing on my blog when I became unemployed 3 years ago. Being stuck in California, a brand new place with no friends and hardly any acquaintances, failing miserably at the job that enabled me to move here and kerplunking my way out of ever EVEN applying to law school led to some serious confidence issues. I was so blue that I wasn't even blue, I was black, I had a black emo soul (complete with side bangs and crappy music). Everything sucked and I had no idea how to build myself up. This is something I chronicle somewhat often on this blog, I do it because frankly, that's what made this blog really happen. Actually its what made everything that is happening in my life now happen.

My emo self can best be illustrated by Spongebob with a visually impairing haircut

I actually had to  a chance to reflect on this in front of a group of students just this week. This past Monday I was a guest lecturer for a Asian American Studies Class on South Asian Diaspora at UC Berkeley.  I presented on South Asian activism and was invited to do so be a fellow activist and professor who found my contact through the emails I sent as part of ASATA (the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action). There was a moment when she had me fill out a honorarium form, in case I could get paid for the presentation as a guest, which made me reflect back on when I worked at UC Berkeley and was the admin person processing the honorarium forms. Now I was filling one out myself, waiting for someone else to process it. Funny how things circle back around.

Okay, not really, but whatever
In this class I was to talk about my own story, on the inspiration behind my activist, how I became an activist, my struggles and triumphs, and all the work I've done.  I should have just given them this blog link and called it a day, but then I wouldn't have had the chance to blab on for 90 minutes straight. Hence the name of my blog would be moot.

Here are the awesome college students who got to hear me talk, and talk and talk =D

When I started to go over my activism, what it's done and what it has meant to me I realize that 90 minutes wasn't close to being enough time to go over it all. And just coz I can't stop talking ( well yea there's that) but also because I have done SO much. I am not saying that to brag. Actually it's a little scary, as I looked into the faces of these bright and shiny young people, I realized that they probably thought I was insane. I mean my activism has been all over the place. After I first became unemployed in 2010, my life was basically one huge journey of trying anything and everything my activist heart desired. Did I want to work on women's issues? How about the situation in Burma? What about Muslim Americans and civil rights? Or South Asian Women's poetry? Photojournalism? Blogging? Democratic Politics? Empowerment of the African Community? How about all of the above?!! No seriously, I did all of the above and more at the same time. That's a LOT, and frankly it's a bit nuts.

Good question Uncle Sam, good question...
But isn't that what you're supposed to be like in your 20's? Experimental? I guess instead of experimenting with drugs, or people, I experimented with activism. I was like an activism mad scientist. It was my 'thing', but I didn't know what issue was MY issue in particular. So I figured I would try them out, sort of like the guess and check method from grade school. Now that law school was out of the question, it was a whole new beginning with tons of possibilities and opportunities and I took all of them.

I spoke to the students about my work with the young Democrats, about getting involved for the first time in local politics by helping on a Oakland city council campaign and joining the board of the East Bay Young Democrats. I spoke about helping to co-found the Black Young Democrats of the East Bay, after naming and addressing the need for cultivating young black leadership in this area. I spoke about being a writer and performer for Yoni Ki Baat, the South Asian Vagina monologues for two years. YKB as it is known has spread throughout the country, but I have been honored to share the stage with and befriended the inspiring women who started it all here in the Bay Area. I spoke about my API organizing, my political blogging for Hyphen, my adventures at the DNC and how I eventually was able to serve on the leadership of NAPAWF. All of that is documented on this blog. I think that's so special. It's an open journal for the world to read, and one that I look to as my journey continues.

I have no idea
 All of this activism was part of my crazy process, but this crazy process was recently recognized as I was selected as part of something called the GOOD 100. I had no idea what this was, but apparently its a quartlerly magazine that outlines people and projects that have done good throughout the world.

Look Ma, I'm in a magazine!
And I made their 100 people who are making a difference in the world for 2014. I was floored, i was shocked, they called me  a big mouth. it was all very fitting. I have to admit, it is pretty cool to be chosen along with a supermodel, the daughter of a president and other kickass people from all over the world. I feel like I am a bit underwhelming compared to these people but hey, I've got to learn to own it (it meaning being awesome without apologizing which honestly, can be so hard to do!).

NAPAWF Power Up Summit! We rock!

So the journey continues, the weeks before the GOOD 100 and my guest lecture saw me take part in my first NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum)'s Power up! summit as a board member, where we got promptly snowed out in the crazy non stop blizzards that the East Coast had to offer this year. I also was honored to join in the New American Leaders Project training for immigrant leaders who want to be in leadership positions, especially those that want to run for office.

Yay for being leaders, yay for being diverse yay for being diverse leaders! NALP's New Jersey training ya'll

Does this mean I'll run for office one day? What did I just say about the guess and check method? I'm still guessing I suppose, we'll see if any of it finally checks out one day....

Monday, February 24, 2014

Not Your Typical Wedding Love Letter

Marriage #2 to husband #1!

Two weekends ago I got married for the second time to the same man, my dear Roberto. Honestly it was an amazing love story. Not just a love story between him and I, but a love story of me and the amazing people who joined us on that day.

This is a love letter to those people...

As I have grown older, I have found myself ruminating on love more and more. It is something I reflect upon quite frequently, love in its many forms, the way we love different people and different relationships and how love and memory can be so intertwined. Roberto and I were officially married last July in my hometown in Northeast Pennsylvania in Wilkes-Barre, PA. It was a very sudden wedding, I like to say that it was a shotgun wedding without the baby. My parents were so thrilled to find out that some guy was willing to marry their crazy daughter that they threw together a wedding less than two months after my engagement. They invited 100 of their neighbors (mostly other Bengali folk) and boom I was MARRIED.

Yes, it was cray-cray, I just wanted an excuse to use the word cray-cray

It was a fun weekend, an absolutely insane one, but fun. The problem was, almost none of my friends were there. About 5 good friends of mine managed to attend, but most other people I loved weren't there to spend my special moment with me. I wanted to share my love with my friends, and for me that meant, another wedding, well...two to be exact.

This meant that we were going to have a West Coast Wedding celebration (and an East Coast one...eventually). In May, Roberto surprised the crap out of me in Alamo Park  with an engagement where about 40-50 friends of ours came out of the woodwork to descend on me in a park in San Francisco to see Robert propose at the site of our first date weekend. I was shocked, I cried and wore red flannel (yup I was so surprised that my engagement pictures will forever be immortalized with me dressed as a scrub).

Apparently, Roberto likes scrubs
That was an amazing moment, and I wanted these friends to be part of our wedding celebration.

So lo and behold, two weeks ago we threw our West Coast Wedding Celebration. It was Naderto's wedding celebration, a horrible amalgam of our names clashed into one. We even hashtagged it (#NADERTO). This celebration was honestly one of the most beautiful, poignant and best memories I have ever made. Roberto built a beautiful alter with his bare hands (in the rain, I may add), and decorated it with beautiful red and yellow flowers. My mentor and West Coast mom, Mary and her equally awesome Dave graciously offered up their home for the event, even though Mary's eyes widened when I told her 150 people had RSVP'd. Countless friends offered to help set up, bring food and drinks and join me with so much excitement on this day.

Our alter, made by the groom

And the day of the celebration, it rained. It was gray and windy, but almost everyone still showed up, yup, Mary was still stuck with about 150 people (sorry Mary!). We did a vows ceremony with our monsignor, Gabriel presiding over our words. Gabriel's wife, and my dear friend and twin, Maia, had basically wedding planned the entire event, we couldn't have celebrated our love without the love given to us by this amazing couple.

Us with Gabe and Maia. Members of the Salvadoran wives club with our lucky husbands ;-)
Everything from that day was possible due to the help of others, it took three of my girlfriends, Barnali, Sabiha and Preeti to help me put my sari on (I'm a failure as a brown girl, I cannot put a sari on my by myself for the life of me), and even my mother commented on how beautifully it was put on. And honestly, coming from a Desi mother, that means a lot.

My beautiful bouquet =) Photograph by Jennifer Davis

My bouquet was put together by Mary's daughter, Charlotte, and our breathtaking wedding photography was done by Mary's niece, Jennifer. Our celebration wouldn't have been possible without the contribution of all of these friends, and I will never forget what they did for me to make my day so special, ever. My friend and artist, Sabreena Haque of Ritual by Design did my stunning mendhi.

My beautiful mendhi by Ritual By Design

My friend Nadine, handmade truffle chocolates for dessert. My best friend Nwe not only got us appetizers from her local Burmese community, but had her boys help me out to fundraise at my wedding for my organization, NAPAWF (National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum), they went around with a box asking people for donations for this organization under our name.

With my NAPAWF sisters and my donation box
When I walked down the aisle, with Mary giving me away (yea girl POWER!), I couldn't even look at the crowd that was waiting for me. I was too overwhelmed by their love for me and Roberto, I was too overwhelmed by them coming out on a rainy day to be a part of this. During my vows, I laughed, cried and honestly forgot what I actually said (thankfully there's video), but was moved the entire time by having everyone there.

You know you have the best co-workers in the world when they come out to party for your wedding! My organization, CHAA (Community Health for Asian Americans)
My awesome SEAYL youth came out, because they are the most awesome youth ever
With my Black Young Dems! Co founded this group with some of these people 2 years ago, and look how far we've come =)

I'm not sure if everyone understood how significant this event was for me. Yes it was a celebration of love, but it was also for me, a celebration of my four years here in the Bay Area. I came here literally ONLY knowing Roberto, the guy I made this crazy move for. As I moved around our packed party, I mingled with the different people in organizations I've worked with, from different jobs, to political movements and groups. All of them were part of a transformative chapter of my life.  Each one of them shared a memory and experience with me, I honestly cannot believe that I experienced so much in these 4 years. My friendships and relationships are a testament to these lives I've lived in the West Coast.

After cheerful and tearful toasts, after dancing and drinking, after gifts and hugs, I know have this memory forever. It is a very important memory of love, the love I share with Roberto and the love I shared with each and every person who joined us. Thank you ALL, from the bottom of my heart.

I love you all, thank you to my my friends for loving us back!

PS. If you want to check out all of our wedding pictures by the wonderful Jennifer Davis, here they are!
Nadia and Roberto's Wedding Photos
Nadia and Roberto's Black and White Wedding Photos