I got cat-called while I was walking the Freedom Trail in Boston with a gal pal. Typically, I'd ignore the behavior, but I was surrounded by history, excited to visit the state archives to see one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights, and was just supremely irritated. I spouted, "you're a pawn of the patriarchy!" and kept walking. It felt good. It might be my default from now on. It'd also make a fun hashtag. Let's try it in a sentence: This rando #pawnofthepatriarchy told me to smile more. Yes, that'll do nicely. Keep on keeping on, SRD.
Taking a moment to acknowledge my privilege: high school for me was awkward, as it is for most, but it didn't suck. I was fortunate to attend a small, private college-prep. The intimate
classes were a welcome change from my previous existence (crowded public schools and overworked/overwhelmed teachers, charged with cranking
students through the floundering education system as best they could).I'd had a decent enough experience in public education up until that point, but the high schools in my area were struggling--significant overcrowding, high teen pregnancy rates, low college acceptances. So, I ended up at a Catholic school for girls. I'll take a stab at the usual questions before moving to topic:
1. No, I didn't mind that there weren't any boys. Exceptingtwo particularly good childhood friends, I found that pubescent boys were largely shitheads. And I was sure I'd meet the good ones in my new extra-curricular, multi-school theatre program. Even if some turned out to be gay, at least they weren't the slightest bit date rapey!
2. No, my parents weren't particularly worried about me being indoctrinated into Catholicism. In fact, there is quite an ingrained respect for religious-private education within the South Asian community (thanks, British Imperialists!).
3. No, I didn't mind the uniforms. I had my morning regimen down to 15minutes flat. I like my sleep. And without the constant worry of presenting myself as a suitable mate to opposite sex, my brain could focus on, you know, my education.
The school was actually pretty progressive, as far as Catholic high schools go. As an independent school that wasn't part of the diocese, educators were granted a certain level of autonomy in creating their curriculum. As a result, we had some fantastic classes that I thought I wouldn't encounter until college--World Religions, Oceanography, British Lit, Philosophy of Personal Morality.
As forward-thinking as the school was, I still remember feeling pegged as the token Muslim (and I was until a couple more gals enrolled). I think it came out of a well-intended effort to acknowledge diversity. Excessive recognition can come off as labeling. But being on the liberal end of the spectrum let me share a version of Islam that perhaps my peers would not have otherwise ever encountered. I find profanity to be cathartic, had no plans for an arranged marriage, and don't wear a hijab. Keep in mind that 9/11 happened my junior year. Anything I could do to normalize my family and our way of life during that time, I would do. I'm not a spokesperson for a diverse religion of 1.6 billion people, but I hope I made a halfway decent impression. Maybe even one that stuck with them at the polls this last cycle.
For years, I struggled with what it meant to be
both Muslim and myself. Then sometime between 28 and 30, I thought, fuck it.
Full disclosure: I'm on the agnostic end of the spectrum and I suppose the
sociologist in me has always thought religion was largely a matter of family,
upbringing, and your birth spot on the planet. But, even at a young age, I had
interest in theology. First, it was the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks who piqued
my interest with their numerous gods and fantastical underworlds. Who doesn’t
love Pegasus?! Later, it was the Druids and Pagans. I was drawn to their
expressions of nature worship—it seemed more hardcore than the basic
Jewish/Christian/Muslim principle of stewardship that I grew up with. I ended
up going to a Catholic high school and learned a lot there. Then in college, it
was Buddhism that sparked my curiosity. But in every case, my interest was on
the intellectual plane. Islam was the only faith that felt like home. It is so
entwined with my identity as part Pakistani that it doesn’t feel right to have
one without the other.
There are also a number aspects of my faith that I truly connect with. Like most
sane humans, I think religious texts aren’t meant to be taken verbatim, but are
intended to teach more general life lessons. Subtext for the win, ya’ll. I love
that Islam was truly a religion ahead of its time, particularly concerning the
treatment of women and the poor. Its focus on inclusivity and diversity also
stikes a chord with me. Go to any mosque (masjid) in the world and you
will see every race represented. It’s beautiful and feels extremely welcoming. When
I was really little, I remember not grasping the concept of a Korean or Black
church—our masjid just had everyone.
I also like that Islam kind of keeps to itself. It is not a
proselytizing faith, so there hasn’t been a history of missionaries bulldozing
the local culture of far off lands. Island culture in Hawaii and Polynesia, for
example, changed substantially to acclimate to Christian life. (Side note: Fiji
didn’t go that route and many of the unfortunate souls who ventured there to
change the locals were simply eaten. Point taken.) And let's not get into the
contemporary extremists, because true Muslims denounce their radical actions and
resent being lumped in with what amounts to a handful of crazies. If you're
going to hold over a billion and a half Muslims accountable for abhorrent
actions of a select few, then I guess you can be held accountable for the
atrocities of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Holocaust. Cool?
Having been born and raised in California and having attended UC Berkeley,
you might surmise that I have more liberal leanings. But even by Pakistani
standards, my family is pretty progressive. Most of the women folk don’t wear a
headscarf (hijab), no one’s had an arranged marriage, and in many
respects, I was given a fair amount of autonomy growing up. I didn’t have a
curfew. I could wear shorts and tank tops. I went to prom. I had male friends. Though,
many turned out to be gay. (I did a lot of theatre.)
So, I will try to be Muslim enough for you. But I am not speaking on behalf of
all Muslims, which is as silly as it is narcissistic. And really, I’m like any
other Pacific Northwesterner. I drink a lot of coffee, burst into flames if it
gets to be over 75°, and love hiking, star gazing, layers, flannel, and yes,
A one-sentence history: The burkini was developed way back
in 2004by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebaneze-born Australian designer,
specifically with the goal of giving more conservative Muslim women a swimwear
option they'd actually feel comfortable wearing.
Having had friends and relatives that would never go swimming because of the
lack of fabric associated with contemporary swimwear, I was ecstatic to learn of the
burkini. I have always loved the water--ocean, lake, river, pool, hot springs,
hot tub--I'm there. Growing up, it broke my heart that women I cared deeply
about would never share in the peace and refreshing freedom I felt in the
water. And as someone who would, given the option, opt for baggy striped 1920s
swimwear, I get the appeal.
So, back in September, when a woman in Nice was made to
remove her burkini by armed authorities, I was pissed. In the
aftermath of yet another atrocious terrorist attack, the French government reacted out of
fear and a ban was passed on this particular piece of beachwear (it looks funny and scares white people, would be a sufficient synopsis of their logic). This is a matter of
personal choice and an individual's comfort, not national security. Given that
the state typically does a decent job of protecting individual liberties, French countrymen
and women of all backgrounds were also livid. Being topless is fine, but
covering up is a crime? (That wasn't supposed to rhyme...Anybody want a
Then, a few weeks ago, I read something that gave me
hope. Halima Aden is a Somaliese teen who was born in a Kenyan
refugee camp and came to America when she was six-years-old. While
participating in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she wore a burkini in the
swimwear segment. Plus, a hijab for the whole thing. Mic drop. These moments
where we are nothing other than ourselves humanize us in the eyes of the scared
and uninformed. We must follow Halima's lead over and over again. Until we're
all just your friendly neighborhood Muslim.
It occurred to me this morning, that I'm right back to the first
career I ever dreamed of as a kid.
It's a frosty 37° Pacific Northwest morning andI'm bundled up with a blanket daringly
draped over my legs and the rolling heater. I’m sitting at my Pottery-Barn-by-way-of-Craigslist
desk. The pup is in her rightful place, on her bed to my left. The cat isat my right andhuddled up against the heater. Out one
window I can see Lake Washington, and out the other (on a clearer day) I can
see Mount Rainier.
Coffee's in a
deep blue, clay mug--a remnant from my past life in Monterey. It rests on a tin
coaster featuring a vintage Corona beer girl, a souvenir from my backpacking
trip through the Yucatan. They’re accompanied by a pair of plum knit
finger-less gloves,my pocket
knife,phone, and all the usual
office accouterments. In front of me is an antique globe of the moon that
belonged to my grandfather, that for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to
dust. Beside it sits a jar containing a colorful collection of sea glass from
my travels,a ceramic armadillo
lamp,and a petite glass full of
sand stolen from Australia. If I look up, I see my maiden name. A cubicle
nameplate from my years as an education program writer hangs on the wall, reminding
me of my roots and first content gig. Around it, there’s a black-and-white picture
with the hubs, and some of favorite artists: a painting of a vampire squid by
my college best friend who is also a scientific illustrator, an abstract
tropical fish painted by my sister in middle school, and a bright watercolor
unicorn painted by my husband years before we met. There is also a large comic
featuring a girl and her sea monster by a Portland artist, a vibrant low-brow
painting of a woman and narwhals gifted by myhigh
schoolbest friend, and a framed
scarf featuring a number of Australian butterflies.
I am surrounded by nature, artistic inspiration, and furry, unconditional
love. Some of my most treasured keepsakes energize and focus me. It
is the best possible workspace. I am in the middle of a script for work,
but stopped to write this because maybe I'm not as focused as I just claimed.
I first wanted
to be a writer circa second grade. Mrs. Nicholas, a tall, tan white woman with
braces and the most perfect side-part, fostered my love of reading. She gave me
special assignments to take with me to Pakistan during a month-long visit with
my family, where we traveled for my favorite uncle's wedding. I felt so honored
that his beautiful bride let me have a sleepover party with her the night
before the festivities, had my hands covered in mehndi, ran around my grandparents' palatial estate with all my
cousins, and attended the glamorous affair covered in mosquito bites. When we
returned, I wrote my first book, lovingly bound in a red report folder by my
mom. Itwas a traveloguecalledThe Trip to Pakistan. Staring
cats. Just cats. They made for far more interesting characters and were
less daunting to illustrate than people. I stand by my choice.
I remember writing it and thinking: None of the kids in my class are going to
get this, but I don't care...I can’t say that my ideology has changed much.
been eating a lot of comfort carbs since the election and thought I'd write
about the bread of my people. Because it is so good, in its multitude of forms.
In fact, there are so many varieties that we'll just stick with my faves. In no
Chapati/Roti | Our basic tortilla.
Chapatis are made with atta
(a hard Indian wheat, or durum) flour, salt, and water. Lots-o-gluten makes the
dough pliable and soft. Rolled out dough is cooked on both sides in a dry
frying pan or tava. In some places,
like my auntie’s house, chapatis are
cooked over an open flame that will create big, fun bubbles.
Paratha | Layered and buttery, like a flat croissant.
The paratha’s trademark thick, flaky
goodness is made possible by spreading the dough with ghee, folding it, and rolling it out again. Ghee is clarified butter, but a different spin on the process that
involves simmering the butter gives the product a distinctly nutty aroma.
Moving on, paratha usually made with
all-purpose flour instead of whole wheat. And to make it that much more
delightful, it’s commonly filled with such tasties as palak (spinach), daal
(lentils), or aloo (potato).
Papadam | That free app that just always shows up.
Papadam is thin and extra crispy. The kneaded mixture of
black gram flour, pepper, and salt is flattened into thin rounds. Sometimes it
appears shiny (when fried) and other times it looks matte (cooked using dry
heat). Papadam usually served with a
couple chutneys including a spicy, green (coriander/mint) and a sweet, brown
Puri | Poofy little balloons of happiness.
Puri is usually made with wheat flour and sometimes has
cumin seed tossed in. It’s deep-fried in either vegetable oil or ghee and puffs up when cooked because
the moisture in the dough becomes steam that expands. Puri is typically served as a light snack, or tapas-style with an
assortment of potato based curries, lentils, and garbanzo beans.
Dosa | A lighter and more monstrous crepe.
Seriously, if your dosa fits on the plate, they did it wrong. I’m a fan of tearing off
chunks and scooping up all the accompaniments (see: puri), but it can also be served stuffed with said tasties. Dosa has no added sugars or saturated
fats and its main ingredients, rice and black gram, make it a solid source of
protein. Interestingly enough, the fermentation process also increases the
vitamin B and vitamin C content.
Naan | A soft, chewy, magnificent beast.
involves mixing white flour with salt, yeast, and yogurt to make a smooth,
pliable dough. The dough is kneaded, set aside to rise, and
then divided into balls, which are flattened and cooked. Naan is made in a tandoor
(a cylindrical clay or metal oven) and served brushed with butter, or you
guessed it, glorious ghee!
Thanksgiving this year is different for
us. My husband is Native American. My mother raised me with a love of culture
and diversity. Apart from a very select few who remain, we are all immigrants.
Honor our First Peoples. Respect their history and right to safe water and
sacred lands. It is the least we as a country can do. According to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety
Administration: Since 1986, there have been nearly 8,000
oil pipeline accidents in the U.S. resulting in $7 billion in damage. Also
since 1986, pipeline accidents have spilled an average of 76,000 barrels per
year or more than 3 million gallons. This irresponsible management of one
natural resource repeatedly poisons another. For Thanksgiving, we're donating to the Standing Rock Sioux. Opt out of buying
trendy tees that don't actually benefit the tribe and send aid directly. Be thankful for what you have and help those who are protecting what they need. Keep on keeping on, SRD.
a youngster, that was a question I got with great frequency from a number of my Pakistani
relatives.But, I had my heart set on being a Marine
Biologist, Animal Trainer, Writer, Egyptologist, and Astronaut. I feel lucky to have been able to touch the first three.HRC's concession speech last week reminded me of another friendly neighborhood Muslim who never gave up on her dreams.
post goes out to a woman who has always inspired me to think outside the box, my
sister from another mister, Saba Ghole. Our dads are actually college besties and we were raised as cousins. Saba is a brilliant, inventive powerhouse who received her
Masters at MIT in Urban Design/Architecture.She attributes her holistic understanding of design and education to her multifaceted interests in painting, photography,
interactive art, architecture, and urban planning.
is the CCO and a founder of NuVu Studio, a school for middle and high school
students geared around interdisciplinary, collaborative projects and based on
the architectural studio model. NuVu focus on hands-on problem solving,
encourages an inventive culture, and promotes peer-to-peer learning.
There are no subjects, no classrooms, and no grades.Instead, students actively learn and create in a studio, and
have portfolios to showcase their design decisions and final products.
After we got married, I decided to periodically run through the house yelling "Braveheart" quotes because, well, I'm Scottish now. We dated for 9 years before getting married, so I think I earned the right. Actually, I was already Scottish on my mom's side, but now you all know it. And the new last name makes it easier to get through TSA. My first name is Sameen, which means precious/beautiful in Urdu. Urdu
is the national language of Pakistan and is an official language in 6
Indian states. Phonetically, it sounds like Hindi, but the written
script is Persian/Arabic as opposed to sanskrit. It is both written and
read right-to-left. The name was my grandmother's pick. My parents had Sabena in mind, but it was the name of a now defunct airline, so mad kudos to my Amma for saving the day. My middle name is Raniyah, which means gazing in Arabic. Bonus: Rani for short means queen in Hindi. My maiden name is Ghazali which references a Persian philosopher and Sufi Muslim mystic named Al-Ghazali. Keep on keeping on, SRD.
"I feel like a kid again, waiting to see who's
going to pop out of some bush screaming 'ching chong' at me."
My friend of
15+ years said that to me this morning. Not that it matters, but he's actually
of Jewish and Filipino decent. We're only a couple days in and already the
interwebs are all a twitter with reports of women, Muslims, and minorities
being openly harassed in public. Needless to say, it's bringing up some old, difficult
And sadly, it's not all random hearsay. Friends who are teachersand high school guidance counselors have already had the pleasure of telling shitty little white kids that it's inappropriate to tell black classmates to "go back to Africa." Nauseatingly ludicrous. It's 2016, not 1956. It would appear that some citizens and their like-minded spawn need a refresher. This wave of newly emboldened racism needs to be checked. Here's how you can help victims just by being a decent citizen andhuman being. Don't stand by: Here's a comicshowing how to help if you see someone being harassed, without engaging the aggressor. Of if you prefer, here's a video. It's easier to act quickly and with confidence if you already have a strategy in place. Another shamelessly stolen idea: A safety pin is being worn on the lapel by Brits to protest racism and
hate crimes, on the rise against Muslims since Brexit. It indicates that
you a safe person to sit with on the bus, walk next to on the street,
or just talk to. I will be wearing one when riding
public transit or walking around in the city. Spread the word and be the
safe space. Keep on keeping on, SRD.
A list of fave books reminds me of lessons I've learned and gives me places to turn when I need a reminder. A list of destinations motivates me to actively seek out and make time for travel. A bucket list pushes me to stretch my boundaries and try new activities. At some point, I started a list of "art that made me cry" (excellent working title, I know) and today I had to add a piece of writing to that list:
• The final segment in Cirque du Soleil's "O" • The wordless opening sequence of Pixar's "Up" • "Joseph Smith, American Moses" from Book of Mormon* • Sia's "Elastic Heart" video • HRC's grace-filled concession speech
It hurts because the loss feels personal, and it is.
Hasan Minhaj is a correspondent on The Daily Show and one of my fave comedians. In this piece he managed to capture what a lot of Muslims are feeling in the aftermath of the election. My mother is a white girl from southern California who, I'm guessing you already assumed was born here. My dad is Pakistani and became a naturalized citizen in the 80's. Due to their coupling, people can rarely place me. Given California's large Latino and Hispanic populations, as a youth, everyone assumed I was Mexican. Now that I'm a Washingtonian and my complexion is more fair olive than deep tan, people sometimes venture Italian. All they know for sure is that I am decidedly not white. I digress. The point is, I am a half-breed (Reclaiming it. Thanks, Cher.) and for the most part, it's been a blessing to be
ambiguously ethnic and not a target of Islamophopia. But I am
scared for my family... for my aunt who wears a hijab, for my cousins
who attend an Islamic elementary school, and for my relatives in Pakistan who may
not be allowed to visit us in the future. My faith resides in our system of checks-and-balances andI find solace in theknowledge that our Cheeto in Chief did in fact lose the popular vote. Plus, check out how voters 18-25 voted, below. The future is bright. Keep on keeping on, SRD.