*The ladies at Wheatish would like to introduce today’s first guest blogger, Nabila. Nabila is a social worker, originally from Toronto with origins in Bangladesh, where her parents are from. When you first meet her, you may think, “oh, she’s so adorable because of her small height and stature”, but do not be fooled! Nabila is a strong woman with great capabilities to kick butt when she has to (especially when she debates). We are excited to have you Nabila, and can’t wait to hear more!
It is widely believed that everyone has skeletons in their closets. My skeleton…well that’s for me to know and for you to never find out. But to be honest, I feel as though I lead two lives. Two separate identities that I can seamlessly transition between. There is the traditional, appropriately clad Nabila that sits with the aunties at dawaats and dares not to deviate from the discussion on the latest trends in saris. Then there is the Nabila that likes to go out with a diverse group of friends and discuss worldly topics over drinks (yes, the alcoholic kind). Needless to say, this dichotomy is what has kept me from being a complete pariah in the Bengali community.
Being a fearless, independent woman is somewhat frowned upon in the Bengali community. Logical decision-making and stability overrules passion and quixotic ideals. My parents still poke fun at me to this day for having a childhood dream of becoming a Hollywood star. I know my parents want me to be financially sound, but in a career that would make me miserable? That, I would not give in to. Let me put this in perspective.
I started off as my undergraduate career as a Biology major, and I was pre-med all throughout college, and even took the MCAT until I finally came to terms with the fact that I truly did not want to be a doctor. I kept living the lie until one day, I finally professed to my parents that a doctor’s life was not for me, and that I actually wanted to be a social worker. A silence fell over the room, and I swear at one point, I thought I heard crickets. My mother looked sullen, and one of the first questions she asked me was “are you sure you don’t want to try law school instead”. I knew this was going to be an uphill battle, but enough was enough. I wanted to be a social worker, and I could not allow my parents’ expectations to determine my future. The next year, I went off to grad school to get my Master’s in social work. Nevertheless, my mother was determined to change my mind about med school. She kept pointing out the fact that social workers don’t make money, and that I would be working with tough populations in less than ideal settings. She seemed to have difficulty grasping the idea that money is not the sole motivator in my life.
I have always had to downplay to my parents just how risky my work can be. I have gone into the homes of low functioning, mentally ill patients (some aggressive) to rehabilitate them. I have met with clients in jail and have worked with them when they were released. I now work at a psychiatric hospital overnight on an unsecured campus with only one security guard. I do all of this because I believe in the impact of my work. While most of my colleagues can tell their families outrageous stories about the job we do, I don’t feel like I can be fully forthcoming with my parents. My job is less than glamorous, and I don’t know if they will ever be 100% supportive of my career choice. I am not “Dr. Anwar” and I do not make six figures, and therefore my career is questionable.
I know I am not the only South Asian to live a double life. In fact, it’s quite common to have a secret white boyfriend, or to have a highly privatized Facebook profile in which only your closest non-family friends can see pictures of your drunken debauchery. I have even heard stories of South Asian guys lying to their fiancées from India about being virgins just so they won’t get rejected by a potential prospect. This is why I shy away from partaking in the modern rendition of “arranged marriages.”
Everyone lies on their biodata to some extent. And if it’s not a blatant lie, it’s a lie of omission. My parents have become so desperate for me to meet a guy that they have been circulating pictures of me (without my consent) to friends and family. Mind you, these are not photos of me in swimsuit on the beach or of me in my little black dress at last year’s NYE party: these are pics of me in a traditional sari or shelwar kameez (and not the sleeveless kind). It’s almost like they’re sending out one version of me (the classic Desi model of a bride-to-be) for all to see. And my parents are not the only ones to do this. Most Desi parents want their children to end up with a rich, nice, virtuous, partner of the opposite sex that follows same cultural and religious practices as their own. Never mind the fact that most first generation South Asians are more assimilated and are less likely to live up to these standards.
I guess what I’m trying to say in my own roundabout way is that it’s time for us first generation South Asians to be fierce and fly our freak flags. It’s okay to disappoint the elders sometimes, because if they truly care about your happiness, they’ll get over it!