A story of an immigrant brought to you by an immigrant.
I was born in the year 2000 in a Muslim household to a young, single mother not much older than I am now in a South Asian country known as Bangladesh. Like most normal kids, I led a comfortable life in the four room apartment that we had with my mom working as a flight attendant and my aunt to watch over me in the absence of my biological father who blamed all of his troubles on substance abuse. It was a comfortable and sheltered life inside the apartment, but once I stepped my foot outside, it was bustling with street vendors and poor families with children who were begging on the streets for the same food that I used to hate eating because "it tastes funny." None of this is out of the ordinary though in a country as overpopulated and stricken with poverty as the one that I grew up in. However, I had my own sets of challenges that I was faced with.
In 2008, my mom got remarried to my now step-dad who - from as far as I can tell - could pass for my biological father. And with a dad, I luckily also got two step-brothers. I was never used to being the middle kid- considering all I ever knew for more than half of my life was how to have everything to myself as the only child (my mom still did the best that she could to spoil me). This same year, I also moved to Michigan. With my fresh-off-the-boat ensemble, I was your typical foreign kid ready to take on the world of opportunities that the U.S. was so well-known for. And just like that, I realized so early on that there would be absolutely no way that I could ever fit in. I had the whole trifecta: a heavy-accented English, absolutely no friends, and a self-esteem that was non-existent. For an 8 year-old girl, I couldn't begin to explain to you how I felt when I would walk in a room full of beautiful, light-skinned people. I stuck out like a sore thumb. This only took a turn for the worse when I first started going to school. My mom has always been the type of foreign mom to say "stick to your roots, because that and me are all you have", and that also meant continuing the coconut hair oil regimen we had. Added bonus feature for those who don't know what this is: it's basically just hot coconut oil slathered in hair and kept almost for an entire day or overnight to help your hair feel smoother and shinier. So in essence, I was sent to my first day at school in America looking like a wet dog and likewise, I got a lot of shit for it. Not only that, but I was also called out to read out loud in front of the class. I did it like a champ, even though you could hear occasional snickers at the way I would pronounce some words which are harmless now, but blows back then to my self-esteem.
It was hard and a few grueling years of reading through the Harry Potter series to help me learn to read faster along with the life-saving discovery of 50 Cent's song "Put it Down on Me" to help me speak English faster without stuttering. Eventually, not only did I know the entire rap (still do), but I was also getting the confidence to feel a lot better about myself and to not dread every day of school. Little did I know that a couple years from that time, I would be reading at a higher level than I was supposed to at that age and taking college level English courses. Now, even though it was years back when I was a lot younger, things like this sometimes can never be easy to overcome- especially for immigrant children. In middle school I was called a terrorist for wearing the hijab during the month of Ramadan and I remember coming home crying to my mom confused as to why I even had to wear it if I was going to be called names. However, there were people who I grew close with, who made me want to feel that it was okay to be a little different and not dwell on things. That it was okay if not everyone liked me and that I couldn't always be a perfectionist or please everyone.
If you've made it this far, then honestly kudos to you and I guess, the point that I'm trying to get at is that not all of our stories are the same. In a lot of cases, I was and still am lucky, but not everyone is. Moving here while seeing a lot of things that no kid should ever have to see in their lifetime, I have realized that like the bad, there is a lot of good in the world too.
You just have to pick who you want to be and which side to be on.
I have personally come very far. For being someone who would have trouble speaking English to now people being surprised when I tell them this story in person that I even had an accent (I miss it sometimes). Heck, I'm surprised that for being a brown girl who was filled with so many insecurities about her looks that I am now that same girl in a sorority with other beautiful girls both inside and out who are now my best friends.
Just know that if you find yourself in the same spot as I was back then, be kind to yourself, know that you can do it, and surround yourself with the best people you can find. If you don't find yourself in the same shoes, be the best person to those who do need it.
Until next time,