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brownindetroit brownindetroit

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brownindetroit  A collection of stories and more of South Asians in and around Detroit. 📸


“Growing up, reading and writing always served as my escape from the world. As I got older, writing shifted from an escape to a means to explore the realities I was living in. It forced me to understand myself, and for the first time finding the words was a little more difficult. But, it became more rewarding. Writing became a means to draw light to issues I saw around me. After all, writing is for the healers. I didn’t expect how vulnerable writing would make me feel though. I found it easy to share bits and pieces of myself through conversations and social media – interests, fashion, photography – but writing was much more intimate. I kept myself distanced from online platforms I wrote on, feeling too nervous to share that part of myself with the people I knew. It was easier to connect with people on an anonymous level, when I could separate the things I felt from myself. Even now, I think 10 times before sharing anything I write. It still remains the most personal part of me, and the most dear to me. I’ve slowly gained confidence in my words through support of those around me, and also in realizing how important having a creative outlet is in finding my happiness. I’m beginning to embrace the vulnerability and realize that by exposing something so personal to me, I’m creating an avenue of trust for people. That even if one person does feel something from something I wrote, it’s worth it. It helps me feel connected to other people and realize that we’re often feeling the same things, and we don’t realize it until it’s put into words. Writing has been a journey of self-discovery and of friendship – in the most human sense of simply connecting with other souls.”

"Living the 'American Dream' as a minority of multiple distinctions was difficult, I felt alone, being a Muslim brown woman, and it left me with a sense of estrangement going through the Detroit Public School system. But it was in my small school’s FIRST Robotics Rookie team that I discovered my passion for engineering—which led to me getting a co-op in high school and going onto the University of Michigan with a full scholarship. The struggles that I faced and overcame are what so many young first-generation immigrants in Detroit are facing today. I saw myself in them and decided to take action by starting a robotics team, Infinity under the non-profit organization, the Hope Center. With the team’s motto being “To Infinity and Beyond,” I hope to instill in the students the value of overcoming their struggles and going beyond their potential, and beyond what I’ve accomplished for achieving their ‘American Dream.'"

"Body image and self esteem are two things that I struggle with, and it has been getting worse as I go through my 20s. It affected my social life so much to the point where I didn’t even go up to people I knew to say a simple “what’s up?” And it made a lot of people think that I had something against them, when really that idea was far from my head. It was more of a "oh my God, it’s __, I can’t let them see me like this." I did so much to bring up my self esteem and try to fight my body image issues. It started off with losing close to a 100lbs, donating all my XL clothes and finally being able to shop for size S and M at normal stores in the mall, and even letting friends take pictures of me for social media. But then I realized that I still wasn’t satisfied.
I even went as extreme as hiring a personal trainer as a reaction to my guilt from binge eating one day. He saw how much motivation I had and the insane progress I was showing, and said I would have abs in 6 months if I stuck with him. But it still didn’t fix my body image issues because all I saw in the mirror was stretch marks, excess skin, acne scars and hyperpigmentation. I had the mindset of blaming my teenage self for doing this to myself and that the damage has been done, and that only surgical and dermatological intervention could fix this. Looking in the mirror and telling myself, “you f*cked yourself over,” instead of focusing and celebrating my progress.
On the bright side, I started 2018 on a different note. A best friend of mine, who I look up to so much and has a big impact on my life, told me that what makes a person attractive is how they carry their confidence and that it all starts with a little self-love. I made it a goal this year to diminish my insecurities, be more social and to have a healthier relationship with my body. I tell myself that this is the best I have ever looked in my life so far but the best is yet to come. And this is for all my people out there who are in the process of trying to be at their best physical and mental health. It all starts with good habits and self-love."

"Stop. Just stop telling me how to handle this. Stop telling me to be proud. .

You don’t understand. You think it’s not a choice, that we’re all born this way. I’m here to tell you I don't think I was born this way. I made choices that perpetuated feelings that are counter to the way of life I’ve envisioned for myself. I feel that modesty is something we don’t value enough in society and it's a habit I'm learning later in life. Unluckily for me, my choices have landed me in a mental battle zone. .

Yet you don’t realize the hypocrisy of how you see my battle, my struggle. “Be queer, be proud! Don’t fight it!” You want me to surrender to your standards and strict parameters - self-acceptance. But when I say, “I can fight this. I can control this. I can struggle for the sake of God,” you see me as backwards, as self-oppressive, as stupid for choosing a different set of strict parameters to live in - religion. .

For me, religion and self-acceptance don’t go hand in hand. We don’t just accept all of the inclinations of the self in religion. We strive to be better based on how God has told us to be. God has instructed me to marry someone of the opposite gender, and I plan on fulfilling that requirement. - “But, if you’re not straight, isn’t that kind of messed up? Aren’t you just being a fraud?” .

Ok, first off, no one is straight. Even if you think you are, you probably aren’t. I hope I’m not challenging your fragile heterosexuality. The odds of being entirely heterosexual are so small compared to being attracted at any point in any situation to someone of your same gender or sex. I love it when straight males say things like, “Lol it’s cool I’m comfortable with my sexuality.” Yes. You are. That’s the point. That’s called heteronormativity. .

Secondly, why do we even attempt to create these categories and labels for people? Straight? Nah. Gay? Nope. Bisexual? Not really. Queer? Ok sure I’ll take the most nondescript label if need be. But the point is, we don’t think it’s oppressive to coax people out of the closet into this lifelong sentence of picking a not-“straight” label.
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"Child abuse is an extremely sensitive topic not too often talked about. I always wanted to share my thoughts about it, especially being a victim of it myself, but there are other aspects to my story that make me ashamed to talk about it. Being Muslim, I fear being judged although they were not my sins that were being committed. I was 5 years old when I first discovered my father was an alcoholic- a very abusive one. I don't know why it surprised me so much because even when he was sober, he was not very nice. Of course I did not understand it much at the time, I just knew it wasn't right. Most of all, when I'd see him verbally and physically abuse my mother who was pregnant at the time. The abuse eventually turned onto my siblings and I, and I don't know if my mother was too afraid to stand up for us, or just chose not to. There were times I felt her pain and tried to understand why she remained silent, and there were other times I resented her for it. The one time she did speak up on my behalf was when he kicked me down the stairs and threw me into our glass table. It got really bad after that and she didn't say anything ever again. She made me promise I would not try to stand up for her. Of course, I always broke that promise and ended up with bruises. Somehow they hurt less than the pain I felt on the inside. Every daughter is supposed to be her father's princess, not his punching bag. My siblings and I did stand up for one another and we grew closer because of it. They are the first friends I had in life. But now we don't see each other much because I am the only one that stayed home. Everyone else left. I do not blame them, I wish I could leave too. I pay all of the bills and cannot continue school because I don't have the financial means to.
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"I recently had a dream where I came home, only to find my parents and relatives all gathered around a beautiful Bengali bride, ready to marry me off. This dream made me very upset, as I may never be able to fulfill my family's wishes because I am queer. It would be difficult for my traditional desi Muslim family to accept an interracial or interfaith marriage, let alone a same-sex relationship. The thought of coming out to my family gives me panic attacks. Trust me, if I could choose to not be queer, I would, because life would not be this painful. I'm hiding a big aspect of my identity from them, but revealing this fact will just shatter my relationship with them. I am not disrespecting my family or culture by being queer; I am immensely grateful for my parents and the sacrifices they have made for me. My parents are worried about me losing my culture and religion in America. I have already shed aspects of my desi and Muslim identity to fit in with my white friends, which I don’t feel positively about. Starting from my name being pronounced incorrectly to friends being outright culturally insensitive, I am surrounded by white ignorance. Being a queer Bengali Muslim in America is particularly isolating: I deal with homophobia from the South asian and Muslim community, and islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism from traditionally queer and white spaces. I yearn to be unapologetically queer, Bengali, and Muslim, all at the same time. Folks like me are left on our own to find and build community, and to create a narrative for ourselves."

CW: Sexual Assault
"I've had my fair share of struggles, the most difficult of which has been living as a survivor of rape. I always knew that I wanted to share my story but was afraid of what my communities would think of me as well as the discouragement from my parents, so I kept silent about my trauma for years. And it slowly broke me down. Through countless arguments with family members and unsuccessful counseling sessions, my self-confidence was crippled; I felt like my pain was invalid and that I was overreacting to what I had gone through. Not having any source of support at the time, these feelings festered within me and became a huge stopping force to my social life and pursuit of interests.
But three months ago, I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened up about being a survivor on my personal Instagram account. And although I was afraid of how people would react as well as the possibility of my parents finding out, I decided that the risk was worth it. And it was! I received an outpour of support from both close friends and distant acquaintances in and outside of the South Asian community. Instead of the shaming that I faced years ago, my friends congratulated me for my strength and willingness to share. Since then, I’ve been more comfortable with being a survivor, and my self-confidence has improved.
With all that said, I want to say that for any survivors out there—including South Asian survivors— know that you’re not alone, that your experiences are valid, and that there are people who care for you—including me. Support from anyone, whether family, friends, or both, is vital to the healing process of trauma. I can say that although I still face hardships as a survivor and that there is still conflict with my parents, I’m thankful for the support that I’ve gotten as it has helped me through hard times."

"I mean I’ve always known. The frustration grew from not being able to do anything about it. Not being able to love and embrace the person I was with because I was bound by the constraints of my religion, my culture, my family. Being South Asian, and Muslim at that, prevents me from being openly queer. Whenever I dated someone, it was always difficult explaining that portion of my life to them. Telling her why we couldn’t hug or kiss in public, why we couldn’t live together, why she needed to be kept a secret. I know it hurts being the other person, having to be in a relationship with someone who has to keep your existence hidden. I met someone years ago, we began dating and fell in love with one another. I had never felt a connection to anyone like this before. I never thought I’d fall so hard for someone, but there I was, committing to her. I always felt a slight rage inside because I feel like it wasn’t an even exchange. I could never give them a home, a ring, a “forever." We were just winging it until I could be brave enough to start living my life on my own accord. But to that end, the idea that I may have to sacrifice something or risk losing something based on the choices I make regarding my identity- that's always a weight on my mind. I can't reconcile why things have to be this way.

I’m at an age now where I start to worry less and less about “log kya kahenge,” and direct my focus on what will make me happy. I'm in a position right now where I’m comfortable with who I am, and who I’m with. The only fear that lays within me is fear of the future. Will I ever have the courage to tell my family? Will they accept me if I tell them? What can I really do about all of this knowing that so much of my community wouldn't support my identity? Will I be forced to grow old alone because I can’t find a partner who understands my circumstances? Where do we go from here? I hope one day this won't have to be anonymous."

"Mental health in the South Asian community isn't discussed as much as it needs to be. Growing up, I saw my older sister cripple beneath the weight of her depression, and eventually I lost her to suicide. This past weekend I spoke at the University of Michigan for their annual SAAN conference on the importance of questioning our traditions while still holding on firmly to our roots - while her death may have been the result of a mental health stigma in our community, losing her also taught me the importance of speaking up for each other so what happened to my family, wouldn't happen to anyone else's.

In 2017, I published a book titled, 'Rangoli,' in honor of my sister's memory. This book is an ode to all the women who have been taught that silence is their only option. Here is a piece from the book:

you are not your roots.
you are a flower
grown from them."

“What’s cool about SAAN is, I was a U of M Alumni and I came to SAAN and I was like ‘This is so cool. I want to grow up to be these people who are doing cool cultural work.’ It was always a dream for me to come here as a speaker and a decade later, here I am with my dad. My dad is a doctor but I’m a journalist. Even though he wanted me to be a doctor, he never pushed me to be a doctor. He wanted me to be independent and do what I like to do. So I’m a journalist, I have a podcast and a video series, and any time I do a live show, he comes out and watches and tells me how I’m doing. He engages with my ideas which is really nice.”
“I’m really proud of you and your generation. My son and all of you youth are educated, you’re interested in improving yourself and improving the communities you live in. So all this negativity about people of color and immigrants- I think you guys are going to change that.”
“Don’t sell yourself short because you’ve learned from us as well! Because you’re using the term ‘people of color’ in a very woke way.”
“No, no, no, I agree. I use that example all the time that I think I’ve learned from my children. I think our generation- we don’t give our children enough credit. You asked why I am here. That’s why I am here. Because I want to support groups like you and my son. The point I want to make is that my generation, your parents, also need to learn from you that you are really children that have grown here. Your parents need to understand your challenges. We cannot force our opinions, the way we have come up with our narratives, which is definitely different than the way you guys are seeing the challenges. We can understand, learn, and support you.”

“ ‘I’m a computer scientist.’ My occupation elicits raised eyebrows from some people, but given that only 18% of computer scientists are women, this reaction is not unwarranted. I'm excited for the day this will no longer be the case. Being one of the only women in my undergraduate classes or on a team at work has been disheartening at times. Even though I've put in many long hours of studying and late nights at work, I have confronted whispers of self-doubt questioning if I am truly as capable and as qualified as my peers.
Over the years, with the help of mentors and experience, I've learned to value my unique skill set, feel confident in my abilities, and, most importantly, keep learning. Computer science is about solving puzzles, whether it’s through software, security, or analysis — and it’s everywhere! Moving to Detroit has exposed me to the city's burgeoning tech community. I'm passionate about the work I do, and by getting involved in organizations like Girls Who Code, I hope to help the next generation of young women cultivate an interest in this fascinating field. “

"I spent four months in Lahore as part of the Berkeley Urdu Language Program in Pakistan (BULPIP-AIPS). Whenever I run into friends now, they ask about any stories from my time there. It’s really hard to distill the essence of my experiences in Lahore with a few anecdotes. Apart from visiting Karachi for a week nearly 4 years ago, I had not been in Pakistan in 14 years without family nearby, let alone to Lahore and Islamabad. Truthfully, it was difficult being halfway across the world with a 10 hour time difference from familiarity. There were moments where I did feel trapped and suffocated, unable to access or grasp certain cultural aspects of Pakistan. There were times where I would be the American in the room, other times the Pakistani. Navigating these dual identities placed upon me was confusing and overwhelming at times. Despite all of this, Lahore was a mesmerizing place. It was a very real and tangible experience that was always in my face. The people there are genuine and exposed. They don’t hide that. And they don’t hide their flaws. Being able to share a lassi at 5 AM in the Walled City of Lahore and learning about the families of our drivers was most satisfying for me.

Looking at the country through a holistic lens unearthed, for me, a country of many terrains and complexities. I’m glad to be back, but it has been an adjustment for me. It’s taken some time to get in the groove of things and connect with people. I feel to some degree, a lot of my interactions have been surface-level, making it a bit difficult to connect with people, and that there was a sense of purpose I was fulfilling there that I find harder to grasp here. Being away allowed me to reconnect with myself and examine what I hold important, as well as allowed me to acknowledge my privilege and to be grateful of all the things that I have in my life. Pakistan is a beautiful country with beautiful people and culture. Just like my experience, it is hard to reduce Pakistan to just a few characteristics."

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