Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Round Table Discussion, Part 2 Walking the Cultural Line

Aisha: First of all I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this. There are not that many people out there, in my opinion that are brave enough to broach this subject, much less do a collaborative blog post about it.

Me: It's absolutely my pleasure! Let's expose things as they really are... we all see them, let's just bring them to the forefront!

Aisha: ok so my parents are both immigrants from Pakistan. My dad came over in 1975 and then my mom came to Canada in 1978. They met for the first time at their wedding!

Me: wow... have they told you how that was?

Aisha: Yeah I've asked them over the years, but to be honest, when I was younger I wasn't that interested in it. As I grew older, I realized how difficult that must have been for them. my dad, I think there was an element of excitement, you know getting out to a new country. Back in those days, and even now, anywhere outside of Pakistan was a dreamland, where you could get rich and do anything that you wanted! For my mom, I think it was much harder. She and my dad talked on the phone and wrote letters once they got engaged (over the phone!) but I am sure that it was really hard for her to leave her family and go to a new country to meet this guy that basically she didn't really know. So they got married and I was born in 1979. They quickly found other Pakistani immigrants to socialize with, some of whom they already knew, so I know that that made things easier.

Me: And to this day, you have a Pakistani community that you are involved in?

Aisha: Yes, they still talk to the people that they hung around with in their younger days :) But this was in Canada, and soon after, they ended up moving to first Kansas and then Oklahoma, for my dad's business. That's where they still live, where I grew up, and where my younger sister was born.

Me: How was growing up in Oklahoma as a Pakistani?

Aisha: I know that Oklahoma is a big part of the Bible belt, but I really never experienced any type of prejudice when I went to school or went shopping or whatever.

Me: So, you never felt different at all?

Aisha: Not when I was younger, no. I never really grasped that there were any differences between me and my friends. We all had the same amount of freedom at that age, (this is elementary school) and even when Christmas came around, I really didn't feel left out because I participated at school in all the festivities, like singing carols and exchanging gifts.

Me: Were you raised Muslim? If so, what does it mean to be raised Muslim?

Aisha: Yes most definitely! From the time that we are very young, we are taught that we pray five time a day, that we should read the Holy Quran daily and that we should never lie...just basic teachings that young kids can understand. The more in-depth stuff came later on. I remember that as I got older, I wasn't able to wear short dresses anymore. I really didnt mind to be honest. And my mom would always tell me not to talk to boys :) She even came to my class one time, I think this was in third grade to ask my teacher to make sure that I wasn't seated next to a boy! We were taught that we had arranged marriages...but my parents really stressed the importance of education.

Me: Wow. Did you have an arranged marriage?

Aisha: I did! Well, kind of arranged, we both liked each other, but we were really young when we got engaged, I was 16 (!) and he was 24...needless to say, my friends were impressed :D

Me: So you had met previously, but basically your parents picked for you?

Aisha: Exactly, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that he is also my cousin, and cousin marriages are still a widespread norm in the Muslim community. My first cousin, my mom's sister's son. He grew up in Pakistan, so we didn't really see each other growing up. But I was always told that in our culture, we do marry our cousins, so it just wasn't weird for me

Me: So, you were raised to pray 5 times a day, to read the Holy Quran, and had arranged marriages. When did it occur to you that you were any bit different from your friends in school?

Aisha: would say about 7th grade, when most kids are getting more freedom to go out to friends' houses and the movies or wherever. I would get asked by friends to come over or go out to see a movie and I would ask my mom and she would say no. After a while, I stopped asking her and just told my friends that I couldn't go.

Me: Let's hop forward a bit. You married, and had children. Do you primarily "hang out" with Pakistani's? Are you raising your children with Muslim values?

Aisha: yes we are raising our children as Muslims. I would say that most of my social group is made up of other Pakistani-American girls like me, who grew up here. A lot of them went through the same stuff that I did. However, I do have some really good American friends as well. I would say that it's about 70/30. whereas when I was growing up, I had more non-Muslim friends...some of whom I still am friends with.

Me: I met you online, through your Etsy shop, and prior to some in depth conversations, I had no idea that you were Muslim, Pakistani, etc. Then we talked, and I discovered more about you. Have you had any bad reactions when people discovered your background?

Aisha: I am one of the fortunate ones I think. I really haven't had anyone recoil from me once they find out that I am a Muslim, which is good.

Me: I am glad for that! This year, on the anniversary of 9/11, one of my facebook contacts referred to Muslims as 'ragheads'. I wept when I saw that. How has life changed for you since 9/11?

Aisha: It's sad that there are people out there who use derogatory terms like that. I still remember on 9/11, I was scared to go out in my native Pakistani clothes. I don't wear a headscarf and I do wear jeans and stuff, but I think that the Pakistani dress is beautiful and I have a lot of them, so I do wear them regularly. I usually get compliments and inquiries of where to get them. But that day I was scared and we were told not to wear them when we went out, for our own safety. Our mosque here in New Jersey was vandalized, but as I said before, I was fortunate, and I wasn't the direct target of anything vicious. Day to day wise, I think that my job to promote Islam as a peaceful religion has gotten that much harder. Growing up in OK, not many people knew that much about Islam, but now they are subjected to a lot of misinformation which unfortunately they believe to be true.

So now when I talk to people, I first have to try to correct any misunderstanding that they have, and believe me, that is hard. There are people who just have made up their minds and there is no changing them.

Me: So, you have been affected more since 9/11, but not directly?

Aisha: exactly right. I have had friends who were attacked, a good friend of mine who does wear hijab (the headscarf) was attacked outside her dorm building and they ripped off her scarf and hurt her really badly. I wonder if things for me would have been different if I did wear hijab,and I am sure that would have been. I mean I look different, you know dark hair and all that, but I have no accent when I speak English, so I think that sometimes throws people off. A lot of people get impressed and tell me, "Wow, your English is really good!" :D

Me: My heart hurts for the innocents harmed. I don't understand. I don't understand hating an entire people because of the action of a few.

Aisha: You are so right! It IS just a few, compared to the millions of peaceful Muslims. I guess that that is just the way of the world.

Me: Do you have any fear of your children being targeting in our post-9/11 United States?

Aisha: I have had my fears of course, I am very careful with them, but I dont want to be so overprotective that I smother them. I just hope that if I raise them to be loving and respectful, and strong at the same time, that they will be able to stand up for themselves if ever they face anything like that.

Me: I think all parents face the same fears... protection verses over-protection. How much is the right amount?

Aisha: Exactly! And that is how EVERY parent is reagardless or race, religion, creed, or nationality. Why can't we focus on those similarities instead of exacerbating our differences?

Me: I totally agree! Our original topic was "Walking the Cultural Line". Have we addressed that? What more would you like to add?

Aisha: Another thing I just wanted to touch on was my jewelry. In our culture, crafting is a hobby, not really a way of life or a means of income, unless you are poor. When I started telling people in my community that I was designing, making, and selling jewelry, I can see on their faces that they are surprised. To their way of thinking, they think that perhaps something is wrong in my marriage, or that my husband is not supporting me anymore, for what other reason would I have to make and sell stuff? That is how the vast majority of people in our culture, that I have encountered at least and have had to deal with, view what I do. It really gets me down sometimes, and for that reason, I don't feel like an artist. Now, if I had a huge corporation and was making millions from my jewelry, yeah, then they would be impressed. I'm not saying that the main focus here is money. They just don't understand the concept of being fulfilled through creating. They think that if you are stable and are able to pay bills and educate your children, that should be enough for one to be fulfilled. I am not doing my art for money. I just happen to love creating, I always have. It's like your round table discussion with Mich, I have to whack those weeds away!

I have to add here that even though my husband grew up in Pakistan, he has been incredibly supportive of my jewelry business. Without that support, I would not be able to operate at this leverl...and in the end, that is really all the support I need :)


Robynsart said...

Thank you Aisha! For such wonderful information and food for thought!

jetskizu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

What an awesome conversation to read. Aisha, this was very informative to me. I grew up in a small town, then went to college in Oklahoma. There were definitely similarities living in OK and small town living. A certain innocence. I want to believe not everyone believes what they read. The best to you and your family.

Robynsart said...

Aisha will be helping me moderate the comments on this blog post. If you have questions for her, please do not hesitate to ask!

Aisha said...

Robyn, I had the most amazing time! Thank YOU for giving me a chance to be part of this :) Indigo, thank you for you well wishes! And you're right about the innocence, but it seems, sadly, that that innocence is slowly slipping away. I just hope people try to stay open and positive, even to things that they don't understand.

TheHappySoul said...

WOW! Fantastic! I learned a ton from reading what Aisha had to say! You both did a wonderful job, and I hope that this post opens the eyes of some people to the fact that just because someone's beliefs are different, doesn't make them a bad person. We should never judge anyone! If those people were to turn and look in the mirror, they might just find that they are the ones with the problem.


Miss Meliss said...

Awesome discussion!

I have a friend who has a son that's very into politics. Terrorists is something that comes up pretty frequently. I find it interesting that people seem to forget about when "Americans" were the terrorists to other races and cultures or when "England" was the terrorists to young America or when "Christians" were the terrorists to "Non-Christians." There are a million examples and it's still going on....we all get to play the same parts, we just don't always see them as the same...somehow from our vantage point "It's different!" but it's not. Ugh.

Thank you for all you shared about your culture. It was very interesting. YAY YOU for fulfilling your desire to make jewelry regardless of what others think about it.

Thank you Robyn for opening your blog to such a interesting topic!


designsbykari said...

What an amazing conversation and Aisha what an amazing journey and strength you show.

Thank you for a wonderful view into a community and way of life that sometimes escapes us.

I try to teach my children we are all the same...we may have different eye color, hair color or beliefs, but in the end we are all people.

Well best to you and your family and continued success.

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