One afternoon, my sister and I were sitting in the living room. She was probably a one-year-old, which would mean I was five-years-old. I remember vividly the screaming and shouting coming from the other room. My dad was hurting my mom, again. I couldn’t see it, I didn’t want to go into the room and see her face streaming of tears, in the mercy of my dad. I had seen enough. I didn’t want to see him grab a fist full of her hair to throw her to the ground, find anything in sight to throw at her or to break. I knew this wasn’t right, my mom shouldn’t have to go through that. I needed to protect my mom, my mom. I always felt powerless and angry at myself for not stopping it. But I was a child, what could I have really done? All I could think of was telling my little sister, “go take this pen, hurt dad with it, make him stop.” I was too scared to protect my mom at that age. That was one of the hardest things to deal with.
One year later, it’s the middle of first grade and we’re packing for a trip to Bangladesh. Now I had another younger sibling, my baby brother. Our family hadn’t gone to Bangladesh for about four years. The trip was fun, I got to meet all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and pretty much anyone related to me in any way. They all told me stories of when I was born and all the things I received as the first baby in my mother’s side. They showed me my old swingsets and clothing I left behind before immigrating to America with my mom. My mom never looked happier to be reunited with her family. One month later, we were all on the way to the airport. All my father’s relatives came with us to bid us goodbye, except we didn’t say goodbye. Just my dad and grandma were returning to America. Leaving my mother, siblings, and I alone at the airport as they departed. I was confused, weren’t we going back home again? Back to New York so I could return to school?
Overhearing conversations between the adults made me realize what happened. My dad never booked our tickets to go back home. He explained to my mom she should stay a little longer since we were visiting after so long and that we would come back soon. In reality, those were all lies. He took all of our passports when he left to deprive us of returning home. He left us stranded. From there started the craze, my mom sold all her jewelry and valuables to make money for the trip home. She repeatedly visited the embassy to explain our situation in order to prove my sibling’s citizenship status and our status as green card holders. Affluent family members had to donate money to us in order to make the trip home. During those times, all we would do is pray and cry and hope God would help us through this cold and troubling time.
We didn’t return to New York. With the help of my mother’s only relatives living in the state of Maine, their support and social services allowed us to build a safe home. I’m starting to remember the nights we spent at the shelter, the bunk beds we would share in the small crowded room they gave us. My new school was big and colorful, I was in a class of majority African American’s while the only other second-grade class was all White students. The apartment social services found us was perfect for our family. The floors were a dark varnish color and slowly it was being filled with furniture that was donated. I never realized how much I buried these memories so deep, they only resurface when I think about it for a long time.
My father had found us. He kept trying to persuade my mom into leaving everything we created in Maine and to return home. He promised her he changed and was praying every day for her to come back to him. The moment she asked me what I thought we should do is still crystal clear in my mind. I told her I didn’t know. I never missed my dad but I did miss our home where I grew up. I think she was considering a lot of things, like how would she raise three kids by herself even with all the help she got? This land was still strange to her despite living here for so long. She spoke in broken English and had no education. All these doubts eventually made her leave everything she built in Maine to return to New York with my dad.
My dad didn’t change. Not one tiny bit. Sometimes I still dream of how my life would be different if my mom chose to stay in Maine. We could have avoided a lot of pain, but I realize staying would have been another pain in the form of poverty.
In “Feminism is for Everybody” by Bell Hooks, she talks about how many modern feminist groups have an anti-male faction due to how many of the heterosexual women were coming out of “relationships where men were cruel, unkind, violent, and unfaithful” (67). I can see why this may have been the case for many women, growing up I had certain moments I would wholeheartedly agree with a lot of the stereotypical qualities of men because they were attributes I could relate to by intrinsically painting them onto my father. I didn’t realize until later in my life that it wasn’t this simple and how no one can easily be put in a box. My mother never held those stereotypical views. When we would watch romantic shows together, I would comment on how the love displayed on screen wasn’t real or attainable in life. I truly believed this because I never had an example to compare to in real life. My mother, on the other hand, did with her own parents. I believe that is why she didn’t fall into the trap of being sexist towards men the way men are sexist towards women.
Hooks clearly outlines that the movement of feminism is to “end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” where men were not the enemy but systemic institutionalized sexism is. These ideas have made me thoughtful and reflective of much of my childhood and early teenage years. I don’t think my dad or any male like the role of being patriarchs, but it is something they do in fear of losing the benefits of patriarchy since that is the only system they know. The status of power is something hard to give up. Having loud patriarchal voices in your life can also affect us. Both of my father’s parents were the loudest forms of patriarchal presence in my life and definitely his. This can never excuse violent actions but I feel it is a step in understanding my father and releasing the anger I have built inside me over the years. Just like Hooks, I believe in their capacity to change and grow, because the only way we can fix systemic oppression is through each and every individual.
Those were only parts of the experiences I had growing up. I could write forever about my mother’s hardships and courage. I could write forever about every instance of pain I have buried so well inside of me I don’t even recognize those experiences to be my own. Nonetheless, those experiences have made me who I am today, why I think, act and breathe the way I do. Why I have so many dreams, why I just want to help people, why I want to turn back time and especially help my mother with the knowledge I have now.
I believe I have blossomed. Specific classes I have been taking in college have become nurturing environments. I feel safe and comfortable enough to share thoughts that were once frightening or considered shameful. I continue to learn and outgrow my old opinions. Feminism is a network and a relationship I have held onto all my life to keep my sanity without realizing. Except I realize my conscious living experiences are vastly different from those around me, especially with my White sisters. Their feminism is something I cannot relate to, that is why Susan Darraj’s “It’s Not an Oxymoron” sentiments on feeling no connection to the White feminism she was being educated on is something I could share. I have been taught things of great value from it but I believe there is a lack of transnational perspectives within certain brands of feminism. We don’t understand each other or refuse to put ourselves in other’s shoes due to our lack of exposure to anything different.
I hope to use this blog as an outlet of my changing perceptions and relationship with feminism. I plan to write about my thoughts on politics, religion, and popular culture through an analytical lens that continues to grow stronger every moment. My goal is to create an inclusive environment here and I hope to accomplish just that.
Thank you for reading my thoughts.
Hooks, Bell. “Come Closer to Feminism .” Feminism Is for Everybody , 1 Oct. 2000, doi:10.4324/9781315743189.
Darraj, Susan Muaddi. “Understanding the Other Sister: The Case of Arab Feminism.” Monthly Review, vol. 53, no. 10, Feb. 2002, p. 15., doi:10.14452/mr-053-10-2002-03_2.