Mirrors. Rebounding uncountable photons of light in so many directions that the eye can’t see them all, they stand embedded in my cultural outfit. I am a vindicator of not losing sight of heritage. Dressed from the head down in my Indian silk salwar-kameez I am poised for action. My hair, a black mane withholding memories of generations past with inherited straightness, is invisible under the canopy of my flowing fabric headdress. Arms, covered with hand-stitched cloth, lay hidden to the wrists. The top of my two-piece suit ends to reveal these unshown limbs behind the pant legs of the bottom half. In distinction to the wardrobe of the West, I wear the clothes of my country in remembrance of culture. Hosting Cultural Day ceremonies, a giant gathering resembling a microcosm of the melting-pot called America, in my community I am to address the next generation in my hope to save its being, for a forgotten way of life leads to a forgotten self.
Mamonie (mom) wears hers for the sense of security and comfort, a part of her life that she does not want to throw behind her. Setting foot in this bidesh, foreign land, she wants to be distinguished for who she is, not just one of the people. My mother wraps the sari around her body in defiance. She will not let Western influence shadow her, our, past, traditions, and way of life. She harbors a determination so great that I turn to her in awe. “How can you not be bought by those designer outfits looking at you from so many store windows?” She replies with a look saying, “I want to preserve what I have left of my world.”
Tugging at the many folds of cotton that lovingly encircle her, I grow up in a home cleansed in prayer every morning before dawn, full of voices (erupting in fast Bengali dialect) by mid-afternoon, and united to dine on bhat (rice) and curry at the end of the day. We live with “honor [of] family and abode.” I learn to give thanks to God for all that He has given us, one of the reasons we came to the U.S. was to seek opportunities we couldn’t find elsewhere. She teaches me prayer, to have faith. I learn about superstitions traveling down from the countryside of Bangladesh, “Never put your foot on a book, disrespecting knowledge means knowledge will disrespect you and you will never become learned.” She teaches about love, life, and self. My heart beats to this.
Daughter, march on into this world of Nike shoes and revving Fords. Commercialism, in its cake baked with the manipulation of wants and desires, will not harm you if you know. Know what is within you. In those creases of your salwar-kameez the faces of the past can be seen. So many stories, traditions, and sayings to pass through. Keep culture alive, for generations to remember and understand though living so far from the homeland; shield it from the washing away of our memories in the thicket of two different backgrounds, an intermixed medley.
Before me sit a span of children attending this community event, ready for my talk. They wait to listen to anecdotes of the past though they sport surf-wear and baseball caps covering their hungry eyes. I hope to reflect something their way just like my mother did for me. These mirrors sparkle in remembrance
Sumaiya Reza, 17, won an honorable mention in the Growing Up Asian in America essay contest conducted by the Asian Pacific Fund.