I always felt different, like no matter what I did I was an outsider.
Who are you?
Where I come from is an interesting question. I had moved over 30 times in my life by the time I was 28 years old! My parents immigrated to the US from Bangladesh, and though I was born in Southern California, my identity as a Bangladeshi American has been very near and dear to my heart. And though I was born in California, I moved many times due to my father serving in the US military. I spent most of my life in the East Coast, in different areas in Pennsylvania, from small towns near the Amish countryside to old coal mining cities in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Growing up in a part of the country with very little diversity greatly impacted my life. I always felt different, like no matter what I did, I was an outsider. I looked different than everyone around me, my skin color was different, my religion was different, my culture was different and therefore, foreign. Despite this feeling of isolation, I dreamed of moving away to a big city, with lots of diversity AND culture. That dream came true when I attended Rutgers University and moved to New Jersey. For the first time in my life I felt accepted and felt like I was part of the norm. I now live in the Bay Area with my husband, Roberto. It is here where I’ve realized that I am a collage of my all my experiences. I do appreciate culture, diversity and progressive ideas. However I also come from small town America and I try not to judge other areas of the country based on big city ideals. In the Bay Area, I work for a public health and wellness non-profit where I work with inner city Southeast in Richmond, CA and have more recently become a certified educator to do outreach to marginalized API communities on behalf of the Affordable Healthcare Act. I also serve on the national governing board of the National Asian Women’s Political Forum (NAPAWF), the board of California Democratic party’s API Caucus, and am a political blogger for Hyphen magazine.
Give us your favorite quote and tell us why it means so much to you:
My favorite poem is the Love Song of J . Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
“Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.”
This poem has been my favorite since I first read it in high school. To me it encompassed some our darkest fears about being human. The insecurity, the insignificance of our lives in the grand scheme of time and questions about our existence. These are all things that humanity has faced for centuries even millennium and are still questioning to this very day. Sometimes I feel very afraid, and have suffered greatly, but haven’t most people? There is a depth in this stanza that has always stuck with me.
1. What is your favorite book?
I have many favorite books, so this is a difficult question. One of my favorite books is All Quiet on the Western Front.
2. Who inspires/inspired you?
Whenever people stand up for human dignity in the face of seemingly unbearable odds, those are the people that inspire me. People from members of the resistance during the world war 2 holocaust, to political prisoners who stayed imprisoned for years in the name of freedom and democracy, to women who fought for women’s suffrage.
3. What is the best lesson your mother/mother figure taught you?
My mother always taught me that love is the most important aspect of our existence. My mother has loved me unconditionally and has demonstrated that love over and over again. It is where I get my strength, and what I rely on during the hardest of times.
4. What advice would you give your 13 year old self?
I would tell my 13 year old self that it is okay to fail and that failure does not make me a weaker person, but someone who is continually learning and benefitting from falling on their face. I was always afraid of failure and that really hurt my confidence as a young person. As I grew older, I realized that it will be alright, no matter what happens and that failure is another part of the process that strengthens my resolve to accomplish my goals.
5. What are your hopes for your daughter(s) and/or son(s)?
I don’t have children, but if I ever do, I hope that they make the need to be of public service an integral part of their being. I believe that my greatest ability as a human being is to be of service to others and to the community, I hope that this call to service, to always stand for what is right and do so bravely will be a lesson they hold near and dear to their hearts.
6. What is the biggest trial you went through in your life and how has that changed you?
My biggest trial in my life was when my father was arrested out of nowhere in a miscarriage of justice and put into prison for three years. My life and my family’s life utterly fell apart when that happened. Though he is home now, I know that this event fundamentally changed who I am; it is if my life was going in one direction and I was suddenly thrown into an alternate universe from which I have never returned. I view life, spirituality and existence very different now. I think before things for me where more black and white, now everything is very grey. I know that I can never take anything for granted because life can always turn everything upside down in a moment.
7. Any regrets? What’s something that you wish you’d thought about more before you did it?
I find regrets pointless because I cannot do anything to change the past. WITH everything I have done I have had to accept that at the time I tried my best with what I knew.
8. How do you stay grounded in your work and/or spiritually grounded?
I stay grounded in my work by knowing that no matter what I do, no what I accumulate or accomplish, in the end I will end up the same way as every human being who has ever existed. I believe in the impermanence of life so I try to live the best way I can in the present. I try to do this by loving others, standing up for human rights and trying to make the world a better place every day. Honestly that is all I have, because I can take none of it with me when I am gone.
9. How do you bring about real change?
If anyone thinks that I have positively impacted their life, than I have made a difference. It can be easy to be caught up in trying to make huge changes all at once, or changing the world and becoming overwhelmed by its problems. For me, change is simpler than that. If I happen to impact more than one persons life in a way that they see as positive, then great! But even impacting one person positively is a real change to me.
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
If I am remembered, I hope that people see me as someone who wanted to be of public service, who expended all their energy to work to make our society a better place, even if it is in a small way. I hope to be a flame that burns, burns, burns until there is nothing left, I want to expend all of my time and work to be of service to humanity. Though honestly, I am completely fine with not being remembered at all, after all I won’t be around to notice!
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