Though Lady Liberty enticed my parents to leave their homeland and chase the American Dream, she somehow forgot to tell them to leave the traditions at home. Being the daughter of two Bangladeshi immigrants, I grew up wearing the notoriously itchy salwar suits, eating fish and rice in abundance, and dancing in front of the TV to Bollywood classics, convinced I would grow up to look just like the beautiful women I saw in movies.
But with what the parents of my American friends referred to as my “exotic” culture, came outdated views on the standards to which women in South Asian households were held. When I was younger, I was never able to attend sleepover parties with the rest of my school friends. I was discouraged from playing too roughly or pursuing sports, and God forbid I have friends of the opposite sex. In high school the number of rules grew. Soon I found myself being silenced when I voiced my opinion, and pressured to explore career options that were more “suitable for girls.” As I grew older, I began to realize the rules set by my parents were more than just a trademark of having strict parents; they were demeaning, unfair, and frustrating. I saw this not only in my family, but in the majority of families in our South Asian community.
For the longest time, I felt restrained. It was difficult growing up in such a constricting environment, and to me, the only way to express myself was through writing. From an early age, I was encouraged by teachers to pursue writing. What was at first a menial school task became a flourishing passion. I found myself scribbling random thoughts in school journals, typing short stories on hot summer days, and enjoying every second of my English classes. Through writing, I could be the person I had always aspired to be: an independent young woman with opinions just waiting to be heard. The words I couldn’t speak, I could write. As time went on, writing gave me a voice; a voice with which I could inspire, I could argue, I could express. Pursuing my passion began to seem less like an outlet and more like a purpose.
When I first told my parents that I wanted to be a writer, I was told I wouldn’t have a job. I was told that “no one would hire a Bangladeshi writer,” and that instead, I should try teaching English—a disguised compromise of my happiness and cultural career expectations. I spent countless days and nights creating the ideal college essay to show my eagerness in becoming an education major. I practically convinced myself of this sudden path, going as far as choosing a program that practically bound me to teaching certification. I felt dissatisfied and unhappy, but above all, I felt unreal. I was living the life of a girl who chose compromise over bravery, who chose safety over the unknown. I was living a life, but not my own. It took me years to build the courage to write, months to try and forget my calling, but a mere two minutes to change my application, and essentially the course of my life. After seventeen years of nothing but expectations, I broke the rules.
I will be beginning my freshman year of college next fall as an English major. Despite my choice in degree being unconventional by Desi standards, I can’t imagine slaving over a subject that I wouldn’t be content pursuing. So what if I end up with ink stains on my hand rather than henna? So what if Aunty-ji and Uncle-ji from back home find me unsuitable or unsuccessful? So what if writing isn’t a “girl’s job”? If the Bollywood movies of my childhood taught me anything, it was that anything could happen, and my anything begins now.
By Farisha Rashid
Illustration by Ellice Weaver for Broadly