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Havovi Cooper Oral History Interview

The interview was conducted as part of SAADA's ACFP 2021-2022. This interviewee discussed her childhood and family life in a Parsi neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan, her experience living as an international student in Marshall, Minnesota and eventually settling down in New York City. She described her experiences of living as a Zoroastrian and South Asian in Minnesota and New York City and her early years in the U.S working as a South Asian journalist.

In this slideshow, you will see:
A wedding photo of Havovi and her husband with a Zoroastrian priest at a community garden on the Lower East Side in New York City. As part of her interview, Havovi shares her story about marrying outside the Zoroastrian community and describes her wedding day in the interview. Within the Zoroastrian community, many young Zoroastrians are marrying outside the community and continue to adapt and incorporate Zoroastrian customs within their unions and day to day lives.

As part of Havovi's material memory of her migration, this is a photo of Havovi's favorite toy, Oscar the Grouch. This toy was gifted to her by her cousin during a visit to the US in 1988 when she was 6 years old. She has brought him along to the U.S. and in many journeys to and from Pakistan and the United States. This toy has been with her in every house and apartment she has lived in.

Childhood, Memory & Remembrance, Education

Duration: 01:17:38

Date: January 13, 2022
Subject(s): Havovi Cooper
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Sharmeen Mehri
Contributor: Havovi Cooper
Location: Karachi, Pakistan

Transcribed by Behnoosh Sethna

Sharmeen Mehri: Today is January 14th, 2022. The time is 7:03 am in Karachi, Pakistan. My name is Sharmeen Mehri and I'm interviewing Havovi Cooper online for the SAADA Archival fellowship project about Zoroastrian South Asian migration to the United States. Hi Havovi, could you tell us a bit about your background first if you could share your name and spell it for us, your location, address, your age and birth date.

Havovi Cooper: Hi I'm Havovi Cooper. I'm currently in Astoria Oregon. I was born on 21st July 1982. HAVOVI COOPER. It is 6:04 pm.

SM: I will first begin with questions about your background and your past relationship to your home country. So first I'd like to just ask a few things about you. Using 3 nouns how would you describe yourself?

HC: I would describe myself as a Pakistani–American, a daughter and a journalist.

SM: Where do you come from and where was your childhood home?

HC: I was born in Karachi Pakistan. I grew up in an apartment building in a very old part of town called Gari Khetar and I lived there till I was about ten years old. After that we moved residences to the colony where my parents currently live. It's a Parsi colony. It's called Avari Colony and my dad designed and built the house that I have the most memories in. And I literally saw this house go up and have a lot of you know memories related to it.

SM: What schools did you go to in Karachi?

HC: I did my O levels and A levels. And for my O levels I went to the Mama Parsi Girls Secondary School and for my A levels I went to Karachi Grammar School.

SM: Could you describe your neighborhood a little bit more especially the Parsi colony? Maybe some personal memories attached to the place.

HC: Since my childhood was in the smaller apartment complex, it was an interesting place to grow up as a child because I felt like life around it was super chaotic but as you might know living inside a Parsi colony is weirdly calm and you leave all the chaos behind. But it was still a pretty gritty place to live that neighborhood in particular I remember hearing the sound of like you know guns at night. My uncle used to live there and while I was in the US, he was actually murdered in an apartment building there. So, I was pretty thankful when we moved when I was ten years old because honestly there weren't a lot of kids growing up in that apartment building and I felt like I didn't really have a fun social life, there was nowhere really to go out and play. It just felt a bit dangerous. My dad grew up in the same apartment. But one memory I have that's pretty distinct is there was an agyari or a Parsi fire temple in the same complex and every time the gehs changed, the geh being the time of the day- the bells would ring. And the bells signified what the gehs were. If it was early morning, there were a certain number of bells and in the afternoon, there are a certain number of bells. I kind of have sort of like this soundtrack in my mind in my background of like hearing this when I was growing up. So, the other place we lived was very different from that neighborhood. It kind of is nestled between a slum and a very affluent area. When we were younger there were 2 ways to enter this colony. One went through the slums and one went through this really affluent area. And in the years since the path through the slums has been closed down and nobody can really enter from there but I have very vivid memories of our school coaster going through that road which was very bumpy and I don't think it has ever been repaired and seeing sort of like this slums where I feel like a lot of Hindu folks were living there and extreme poverty. And then suddenly there are these grand gates, and you enter through these gates it's like paradise. There are green and a social hall. There were nice houses. It was clean and green. It just felt like an alternate universe like you were not living in Pakistan and one of the reasons for that was also because they have the security at the gate and they kind of vet people who come in and come out and so Parsi's kind of felt secure being for the lack of a better word themselves in this little enclave. And an example of how drastically different it was from the outside world was that often in the evenings as children and as grown-ups we would all like you know we would take walks around this colony. We would wear whatever we wanted and as women and as girls we would wear shorts. We would wear tights. Things just we could not, or we couldn't have even like stepped out of the colony wearing those clothes and going into another neighborhood. We sure we could if we were in a car and nobody saw it but walking around, biking as girls and like doing all the things we did around the colony it was extremely freeing and you know just a very safe experience. Another memory of course that I have of this colony that I don't think you can get away from and I believe if you're interviewing other people will mention this too. Is that the colony is constructed around 2 buildings that are the tower of silences or dokhma or dungarwadi and it's in a hilly area which is how where like traditionally dungarwadis are so they're at the top of a hill. And then the whole colony is built around it and it was kind of ironic that here we were like walking around this monument and when I was growing up, I distinctly remember that like teenagers would go park their cars at night right by the dungarwadi and you know have fun but there was always this sort of for me at least this mystery of having like or maybe sometimes comfort of having death always in view. And not just view but in many other senses it was right there. Because if there was a body that was freshly placed in the dungarwadi and if the direction of the wind changed you could smell the corpses like rotting or decaying. And, until this day I feel like I can sniff that out anywhere that I am I'll be like oh my God I think there's something dead here because I feel like I know that sour stench like it's in my nostrils from years of having lived there and being able to recognize it. So yeah, those are just some of my memories from that colony. But that house it was just you know I loved growing up there. It just felt happy, safe, and joyous in many ways.

SM: Do you have siblings? Could you describe family life in the Parsi colony?

HC: Yeah, I do have siblings. I have an older brother. His name is Spitaman and he's a year and a half older to me. So, we grew up having pretty much the same experiences, but we took different paths. I left for the US when I was eighteen years old. He stayed behind and only recently moved to Toronto under a Zoroastrian program that is sending Zoroastrians to Canada. He stayed and got married to a Parsi there. His son grew up for five or six years there so his life was very much in that colony for a lot longer than me. I feel like family life there was pretty like I always feel like when I go home now it feels sad because there are a lot of older people left behind but there are not a lot of younger people. That's how and that's what I see. But when I was growing up there were a lot of young people growing up same the same age as me in that colony and we would frequently meet in the evenings and hang out there. There were these volleyball matches at the social club. And there was just more than the volleyball. It was all the food that used to be served there that was a huge attraction for many of us and you know we would gather there in the evenings and watch the matches and meet the boys and girls who didn't live there. It was kind of exciting to be able to socialize in that context. Despite the fact that there aren't too many younger people living there, my parents still live there and every time I go there I do feel comforted that they are surrounded by people who care for them. I know this because like I feel like when I go back I still take that walk around the colony and when I meet people they'll ask me “kem che, mummy daddy kem che” which means how our mom our mom and dad what happened this and this happened we heard I mean nothing stays you know in indoors with the Parsi community. Everybody finds out in like 5 minutes of what's happening and, in some ways, when I'm so far away from home and my parents are alone I find comfort in the fact that everybody is in everybody's business and everyone knows what's going on so there's an upside and a downside to it. But I'm focusing on the upside for now.

SM: Can you describe a little bit about your employment history and your educational history?

HC: I'll start from the very beginning which was obviously like the foundation which was at this school called the Mama Parsi Girls’ Secondary school. And as the name tells you, it was run and owned by Parsis, a Parsi trust. As a lot of good schools in Karachi are, they're either run by Christians or Parses or that at least used to be the case. So, I happened to go to the school. It was almost like a default because most Parses at that point in time attended that school. It was all girls school which again I feel like was everything in retrospect feels amazing. But at that point in time maybe I didn't like it as much. But it was an all-girl school and I enjoyed it because I feel like it preserved some of my childhood for longer than it would have been, and I appreciate that. It was an all-girls parse school and I have to say though even at that point in time there weren't a lot of Parsi kids and I would say that in a grade of 30 girls maybe like 3 or 4 were Parsi. They tried to help they provided us with Zoroastrian education all the way till we graduated, and the Muslim students had Islamic studies. They tried to teach us Gujrati till third grade. I'm really glad that my parents didn't just put me in some fancies school and decided to think about our cultural heritage as well and put me there. Having said that after fifth grade I chose to do what you call O levels Cambridge studies. I was one of two Parsi kids. Once that happened and then the other parse kid left and so I was the only parse kid in my class for like three or four years and you know what I mean it's not like I stuck out or felt it. Everything just felt normal like I never gave it much thought that hey I'm the only Parsi girl in this Parsi school you know or in in this class. I didn't really give it a thought. From the very beginning I would say that most of my best friends were girls who were Muslim from my grade. We had a tightknit group of 5 friends who that we dubbed Hum Paanch after an Indian Soap Opera and we're still in touch to this day. And, they were all Muslims and that just kind of never played like it was never highlighted or never really played a role in my life that I can't I should be close to this group because of my religious affinity or not close to this group because I'm not or I don't belong. It was just never never a thing. Having said that I do know that for a lot of Paris kids in my grade. I feel like they were all close to each other rather than being close to others. And you know, I get that too, but it wasn't my reality.

HC: So, after I graduated from that school and it's an extraneous fact, but my mom taught at that school and it's always fun to have your mom as a teacher while growing up. It came in useful at times when I needed money for like the canteen money that was that was part of it. Once I graduated ah Mama Parsi at that point in time did not offer A level classes. I moved on to this other school called Karachi Grammar school. If you talk to anybody from Pakistan you know they will definitely know what that school is. It's a pretty famous school. It's famous for a few reasons. Obviously, it's had a good reputation in terms of the education but also because it's the school for the rich and the famous. I was just going there for 2 years whereas kids had been there for 11 years and were going to be there for two more years after that. So, it was very really hard to I feel I was a very social and popular person even in like high school in Mama Parsi and didn't have any inhibitions about making new friends, but I felt like that school it was hard to do that because you were an outsider, and I certainly was not rolling in the kind of money a lot of them were. So, their social circles were very different from mine. But I thought the education there was great. I did make some really good friends there. But it wasn't I never really felt comfortable in my own skin there. That's just as well. I don't have nightmares about it. At that point in time, I was always a good writer and I think it really speaks to teachers being encouraging. They always encouraged that talent in me and when I was 15 or 16 which was not a normal thing to do. I decided to go and do an internship at She magazine which was a magazine that was semi fashion, semi-social but very women- driven. The leadership was women. All the staff were women, and I knew another Parsi lady who worked there and she got me that internship. For a summer or two I went back, and I wrote for this magazine, I reported, I went to events and I was just 15 or 16. I loved it which pretty much sealed the deal for me that I wanted to you know, get into journalism, but the 1 big problem was that there weren't many good or any good established journalism programs in Pakistan at that point in time. The one that there would have been would have been at Karachi University and nothing wrong with that. But I do believe at that point in time a lot of the programs there were in Urdu. My education had been in English and Urdu was taught to us as a language like French would be or Spanish would be in the U.S, in the classrooms in the US. So, while I was fluent in Urdu, I wasn't fluent to the point of learning how to write at a classical level or at a level of broadcasting because like when you're at a broadcasting level you're writing like way more technically. So, I knew that if I wanted to pursue this I needed to apply abroad. And the other part of this is that I feel like everyone I knew in college was also doing the same.

HC: So, I also wanted to do the same thing which was leave and I applied to a bunch of schools in the US. They were all schools that were within my budget meaning things that my parents’ places but that my parents could pay for or I could go get a scholarship. Because my both my parents were extremely like middle class working my mom's a school teacher. My dad was a civil engineer. It's not like they could have. You know, sent me to an ivy league school where and afforded to pay. You know the tuition in dollars the rupee to the dollar was always expensive and ridiculous. The first time I applied I got into some places but I didn't get a decent enough scholarship for my parents to foot the bill for the rest of it so I stayed for six months back in Pakistan and then applied again for other programs where I knew that even if I didn't get a big enough scholarship, I would be able to they might be able to pay for it. I feel like it obviously it was a big step and I don't think I I thought much about I'm going to be moving so far away and leaving all family behind and things like that. I was just so excited to be able to do what I wanted to do and leave and experience life on my own and that all that didn't quite cross my mind at that point in time. So, I left. I can carry on into my education in the us from this point. I got in-state tuition at a small school in Southwest Minnesota, it's this place called Marshall Minnesota which has like 6000 people. I would joke that it has more cows than people. It snows a lot which I suppose I knew. But here's the extent of my knowledge when I left. I had a few offers. I think one was from like Mississippi and one was from Minnesota, and I had an uncle in Chicago and I asked that uncle in Chicago. “What do you think?” and he was like “definitely not Mississippi”, and I didn't really know why not but I was just like okay so I guess I'm going to Minnesota. At that point in time again my ignorance I didn't even know if Minnesota was the state and Minneapolis, was the capital. It all just basically sounded the same to me, but I was thrilled to be leaving so that's that was sort of like where I was going to go. One story that I want to share about that was I applied for my visa right around the time that 911 happened and I was in Pakistan on 911 at my friend's birthday and I distinctly remember that we are watching TV and we were looking the banner on CNN was, America under attack and I selfishly I was just like “Oh my god!” I didn't even know if there was any involvement with Muslim countries at that point in time Pakistan nothing but I was just like oh my god I'm just not going to get a visa like this is all just going to come to an end before it's even begun! I just got in! And I was to in total panic mode at that point in time. So, September 11 happened, and I went to college in January; I did get a visa. So, sweetly enough which I also recognize is not a normal thing. My dad came to drop me off. Oh well, here are some other fun things about it. But, essentially at that point in time Pakistan didn't have Karachi at least didn't necessarily have malls with fancy winter clothing and like things that were available readily available like that. So, my dad and I went to this place called Landa bazaar which is basically a used thrift market. It sells American rejected things everything from jackets to boots and all kinds of things and I bought all my winter apparel for Minnesota from this thrift bazaar. Needless to say, I was very out of fashion by the time I arrived in Chicago so we stayed with an uncle at that point in time and then ten days later my college was beginning. So, we got on a plane arrived in Minneapolis. My dad stayed with me for maybe five days and then he left. At that point in the time, I already started making some friends and they were all just so fond of my dad being there. They just loved it. They all came on their own and were already badly missing home and I didn't realize that, and I was just like oh my god my dad is making me feel so uncool what is he doing at these orientations. Why is he here right? and then he left and I'm sitting in this dark dorm room alone and it's cold outside and the wind is blowing and it felt dismal and then it suddenly struck me I was just like “oh my god, I'm on my own” and the tears came but, it was gradual and again looking back I'm so grateful that I even had him come and ease me into this journey of being alone for a long time.

HC: Undergrad was this place Marshall, Minnesota, stayed there for three and a half years to do my degree, my Bachelor of Science degree in radio and TV. Made some lifelong friends. There weren’t, I was the only Pakistani student on campus and probably the only Pakistani in that town at that point in time, until this one guy arrived and then there were 2 and then he left. But but that was kind of how it was, there were a few students from India a very big contingent from Nepal. My roommate was from Kenya and she was doing the same program as me um so we got along famously. And I feel like it was very beneficial to me to not have stuck to the same sort of like group or community while I was growing in the US. I think it really shaped a lot of my worldviews including about race. I felt that like most of the desi students looked at me funny that like “hey, why are you hanging out with this big black girl?” And I didn't even see that, like it was it was like that and I would kind of get annoyed at times that like “What are you guys talking about like. Like why you are here?” Just go back home if that's the view or mindset you're going to bring and if you're going to be closed off to opening yourself up to experiences and new people and new cultures. I thought so it was really great to have her around. She was also 7 years older than me so all of it helped more experienced. I felt very lucky to have her. I learned a lot through her. There were some interesting experiences there in that college like I felt like mostly I felt I had good friends but would I choose to go back to that place? Never! I wouldn't even I have to say I wouldn't even take a flyover or whatever I don't want to ever go back. It was just so desolate. So cold like minus you know -10° often. And I I was a poor student. You know so I was trudging in the snow, I didn't have a car. I was working 3 jobs at the cafeteria, washing dishes and working in a construction trailer as a receptionist. And you know, you name it as an international student you're only allowed to work a certain number of hours a week and so I just wanted to be able to at least even if my parents were paying for my tuition, I wanted to have at least some pocket money to be able to spend without which I wouldn't have felt comfortable spending even a dime on anything that was discretionary you know. So yeah it just helped to have good friends otherwise I don't know how I would have gone through those three and a half years in Minnesota. I feel like if I have to find the positive in it, it prepared me.

HC: New York is not the rest of the US and New York is where I've spent most of my time in the US but it isn't and I feel like it really opened my eyes to that. I appreciate it. You know I appreciate knowing what the rest of the US is like whether I want to live like that or not is a different thing. But it’s there and you definitely shouldn't ignore it. There were plenty of good people I met there too. It was interesting being there. After I'm sure I'm missing some good stories from there. But after I graduated, I was just dying to go to New York because I'd gone for like a month to visit with a friend and I loved it and I was like this is way more me coming from such a huge city, finding your own comfort food. There was no, there are no Indian or Pakistani restaurants in Marshall, Minnesota. In one way it was good because I learned how to cook and I'd never done that before. There was a small Somali community even in this small ass-town and they would sell phone cards for the international students. That's how old I am, and they would sell basmati rice that they would bring over from the cities, Twin cities. And I was there, I'm like I could not have survived without that basmati rice. Um so you know just small things that that made my life bearable. One one actually one story that I remembered about it was that I was in a music class, a world music class. My professor asked me, hey do you think you could talk about Pakistan and like your background to people just to the to the class and I was like yeah sure, whatever. So, I got up on, I got up in front of the class and did a little presentation on Pakistan and my culture. And then there was the q&a section and it was horrifying because the questions I was asked I know that you read this stuff in like you could you read this stuff in novels but like or you see it on TV but like I just didn't kind of quite expect it but like people asked me questions like do you guys have indoor plumbing? Meaning do you have toilets? And I mean I don't even know how I contained any expression that I had because I couldn’t even, I I don’t think I could have controlled my expressions or given them an actual answer without being sarcastic about it. And I think I told them I was like yeah like I got on a plane and came to the US like do you not think we have toilets like what are you talking about you? And then post 911, I would have thought everyone knew where Pakistan was, but nobody knew where Pakistan was. I got questions like “oh is it in Europe?” Just very basic basic basic questions. So, you know that's live and learn. And while it was annoying, it wasn't as bad as I want to say like some other people from some other countries what experience they were having in Minnesota. I got past I got past that that bit too. Fast forward to graduating from there a professor hooked me up with his son who was in broadcasting in New York and I got an unpaid internship there and I started working at this station called RNN TV, super local. I followed the reporter everywhere and got to do some really you know fun stuff there for the summer. While I worked there, I was also working at a restaurant because it was unpaid so who was going to pay the bills and then the internship came to an end. And I had to start applying for jobs. International students in the US get a year on something called an OPT and you have to make it work. You have to find an employer in your profession to sponsor you for an employment visa so you can stay on. This was 2007, and I interviewed at a bunch of places and did not manage to find an employer who would have you know put in and sponsored me. So, I decided to cut my losses. And think about like hey what am I doing at this restaurant job? I'm not this is not what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life. Let me go back home.

HC: And, I left and went back to Karachi and got a job at Geo News and it was very hard. It was really hard going back home and living with your parents and trying to adjust back into that lifestyle once you've had a taste of independence especially living in New York. Once I got back at Geo I joined there as a reporter and an on-air anchor and within a few months I left to anchor their show which was based in Dubai so at three months at a time I would go to Dubai. And, to anchor this show and the rest of the three months I would be reporting from Pakistan. It was a while I wasn't enjoying being back home because it wasn't a choice. It was more of like hey you don't have an option. You can't be in this country so leave and my all my hopes were to stay there. It was really hard but I met a lot of likeminded people who had just returned from the US after doing their undergrad and were working at Geo News because they were trying to launch an English language news channel at that point in time. So made a lot of good friends there, had a lot of interesting experiences reporting in Pakistan I'd only done it when I was young at She magazine but now a lot had changed because Afghanistan had been invaded. The Taliban had you know, already entered Pakistan and there was like there was a huge Talibanization going on there and being a female reporter, I could tell you about more than 1 incident that did not make me feel safe at all. I can I'll tell you one that was that's ironic and funny and a bit associated with my Zoroastrian identity as well. Which is that we went to do a story at Karachi University and it's far out. There are a lot of union student at that university that try to create chaos. So, I was wearing probably jeans. And a kameez that was sleeveless but with a shawl. Nobody could really see if it was sleeveless or not but I was there to do an interview with a professor and then do what we call a standup in TV in which you are in front of the camera and you're basically saying your little piece to camera so I had a camera man with me. I started to do my standup and suddenly I was surrounded by men on like five motorbikes who came and who were like “hey what are you doing here?” and I was just like I am you know doing my job I'm reporting I'm here to talk to this and this professor. They were like “what are you wearing?” and I was like what am I wearing and they were like basically mentioning to the fact that I was wearing a sleeveless shirt. Even though again I don't feel like I need to justify this but in some ways, I do that but my head was not covered or whatever it is and then they're like in Urdu they said, “App university ka mahoul ghanda kar rahee hai” which means you are polluting or dirtying the environment of this university you know, alluding to the fact that I wasn't dressed appropriately. So, I turned to them, and I was like “what are you doing? Why aren't you in class? What are like why are you here bothering me? I have permission to be here.” They weren't listening to any of that they were like: aren't you ashamed of what you're wearing? aren't you a Muslim? and to which I turned, and I said I'm not and then they were puzzled because they were like is she pulling our leg or is she serious. My cameraman was freaking out because we were outnumbered by these young men and in retrospect I probably I should have just like left and not engaged in any conversation with them. But, that was one example of something like that happening. Another one was- These are not necessarily things I feel like a lot of Parsi girls or women do but I got on a mini bus when I was younger in high school and because I used to take accounting tuitions in Saddar. On a Sunday morning, my parents didn't have a driver and they were like we're not driving you to this. So, my brother would come along with me, and we would take this mini bus and get on this mini bus and then he would drop me off and then he would come back. So basically, I would not be alone. There was one time there was namaz going on in the background. And again, being a Parsi you know even though I was wearing a shalwar kameez with a dupatta I didn't put it on my head because it's not something that is obviously, I'm not programmed to do it necessarily. So, there were some 2 guys sitting behind me and I heard them say something like “oh she's so shameless like these days girls don't even cover their head when they have when the namaz is going on or the prayers” like I'm just like the assumption when you live in a country that has one predominant religion is obviously that you are that predominant religion and it was only in moments like that, I would realize that I am very much I am somewhat of an outsider. So those were interesting experiences from time to time I would say so that was going back to work. I did a little bit. I worked at GEO news for a while. It was awesome and amazing experience. I was on national tv for an evening broadcast every single day. My parents would take a photo of the Tv when I was on, and it was great. You know like such exposure I would never have gotten in the US at 24 years old nobody would have put me on TV for various reasons. I have an accent. And how many people with an accent do you see on national tv you know, broadcasting the news even now we're in such a woke age? You know even now you still don't so said was amazing going back home and doing this. Meanwhile I was still very much fixated on going back to the US. So, I applied to Columbia University's Journalism program. Still very much bearing in mind that I would not be able to afford it unless I got practically a full scholarship because Columbia is one of the most expensive schools you could go to. Yeah, I applied there and was the only grad school I applied to and I got in and I got in on a full scholarship and so my parents only had to pay for like my room and board. I feel like had I not gone back home and had this experience in working in journalism every single day I would never have gotten in. There was no way I was getting in from with a degree from southwest Minnesota State University so it all worked out and like just being able to show them that I had this experience from a country that was extremely hard to report from and was in the news all the time they obviously wanted somebody from that background in their program. So, I went back to New York and worked there and got you know after I graduated a lot of doors opened because of obviously Columbia has a big name and so I got a job at Reuters and I stayed there for about 13 years in various roles and now I am a supervising producer at Business Insider.

SM: And so, how has journalism been meaningful for you especially in terms of your South Asian and Zoroastrian identity?

HC: I feel like a lot of context that I can bring to the newsroom as somebody who's grown up in Pakistan is valuable to them. And, I've always wanted to tell stories that have a South Asian bent to them. Obviously, I have the advantage of knowing the language. And I feel like I've always tried to pitch stories that have an angle from South Asia. I gotten to do a lot more of that at Business Insider than at Reuters because Reuters was more hard news and whatever was in the news at that point in time is what you had to cover. But just today for example I was working on a story about a program we have called still standing which profiles traditions that are very old. We're doing a story on Ajrak which is a shawl, a Sindhi shawl that goes back to the Indus Valley civilizations of 5000 years. So, I've pitched various stories that are related to Pakistan and India and Afghanistan especially with the turmoil that was going on with the pullout. And I help with translations all the time. So, it’s just very much like I don't think there's a day that goes by in my work where I have my South Asian identity or knowledge or background isn't called upon. And I love it. I'm not somebody who, I'm just not someone who wants to distance myself from it in any way. This is very much a part of my identity and I embrace it and I look for ways on how I can incorporate it into my life here too. I have to say when I left, I probably wanted. I was more idealistic. I chose journalism and to be precise tv journalism because when I was growing up there was only 1 news channel, and it was called PTV. It was a state-run news channel. And there was 1 news broadcast every day at seven o'clock in English and then at Nine o'clock in Urdu. The agenda on that channel would be what the programming would be. The news invariably any single given day would start with news from Kashmir. A region that we do not even fully have, whereas we have tons and tons and tons of problems and issues to report from in Pakistan, from within Pakistan. I was always political, always followed politics and it just made me super angry that PTV dictated an agenda that was the agenda of the of the government. Whatever government it might be and there was only 1 news channel and if you know anything about like literacy and the power of news, especially not written news, but you know spoken news, more people understand it, you don't have to know how to read. So, you can put out whatever propaganda you want, and people will believe it. So, I felt like oh like I need to do something about this and that's what propelled me toward journalism. A need to make a change in Pakistan to be precise. And I feel like obviously I didn't go back home and practice this field as for as long as I would have wanted to earlier because obviously life is not just about like 1 thing you know it's not just about your career. It's a prism and I somewhere probably lost that motivation and that inspiration. And grew up maybe in some ways. Because I realized that there's only so much I can do even if I was working in news in Pakistan. But, at the same time I held on to it and tried to still focus my coverage on it whenever I could. In other ways that my that journalism or my profession has been connected with my work has been. I wanted to always do on-air reporting and I very quickly learned in the US that would be very hard for me. As I was telling you given my Pakistani accent that I was absolutely not going to lose. A point of pride for me how I sound like. Why should I change the way I sound? because it doesn't suit you. There are several instances I did get on air at Reuters. I got many opportunities to be on air. But Reuters again it was brilliant because it was a global news organization that allowed me to do that. But, even there I did have bosses who would tell me that you shouldn't do the voiceover on this baseball story because it's just not going to feel credible and I wanted to turn to them and say how does it feel credible to have an American reporter reporting from Pakistan that doesn't feel. Why do you not have a problem with that? But you have a problem with me doing you know the voiceover for your stupid baseball story.

HC: And there were several, when I felt like there was a pattern where I was being picked on for my accent I just turned to my boss, and I was like do you want me to take accent classes. Do you want to pay for it? Because I'm not going to pay for it. You want me to take accent classes I'll take it. But I was very clear to them to a point of a confrontation that don't get me wrong my English is as good as your English even if it doesn't sound the same. I'm going to get wherever I'm going to get whether you create a problem for me right now or not with my identity. I feel like we're moving so far away from that now and I'm very encouraged and happy about it I feel like in this day and age. Ten years ago, somebody could tell me that my accent was not suitable for tv I do not think that in the newsroom that I work in right now anybody would ever dare to do that. I feel like we've come a long way. And ultimately when I finally managed to get on when I moved from Reuters and I joined Insider the job that I joined with was an on-air presenter. So, I felt like personally also there was a journey where it happened for me, you know, despite the naysayers. And yeah. I think it wasn't just this one instance. I always felt like there was a need to there was a pressure from the older generation or a need even within the South Asian community to assimilate. So, for example, when I was new in this country had cousins who had lived here and were born here would tell me that you know if somebody asks you where you're from. You should just say you're from India and I was like what? like why? I feel like the older generation that came here and was desperate to assimilate it was a very different experience from the younger generation that is coming here and is not afraid to just be themselves and isn't okay with people telling them how they should be. I think it's very empowering.

SM: While settling down in the US, and I would say maybe, your second time around, what was the most difficult change to your lifestyle or your thinking that you had to make?

HC: I think when, I I guess when I came to the US, for me in Minnesota obviously it was the isolation of being the only Pakistani or Zoroastrian or any of that. Actually, I can share a funny Zoroastrian related story with you. So, very much into my very early days in Minnesota. Maybe I had been there for six months wardrobe wasn't even up to date or any of that because again total what they call fresh off the boat. I think I had that look for 3 years but I was very much fresh off the boat and still sort of in some ways eager to be able to also connect maybe not as eager as everyone else around me was to be able to connect with the Parsi community. So, like I was trying to find I had to make those opportunities happen. They wouldn't have happened otherwise because I was in such a small town. There was a Zoroastrian congress happening in Chicago six months after I'd come. Some of my relatives were involved in it and my American relatives told me that like you should attend. It's going to be great. I mean I had somewhat of an idea that it is a bit of a marriage market situation, and I was just eighteen, so I wasn't looking for that but sure why not let's meet people. You know? So, I went in a bit naive and with my expectations thinking that maybe this would be more than just that you know, but very soon realizing that this was whoa like this was a fashion show. Everyone here had like was here for that reason. It kind of felt obviously really strange I felt like I was putting on a show I felt like I definitely didn't belong among the American Zoroastrians who'd grown up here. I could not relate to them, and I think they couldn't relate to me probably the people I bonded with were definitely people who had grown up in India or Pakistan, and like just overall the whole experience was a bit of a turnoff like I felt like oh my gosh I don't think I ever want to go to a Zoroastrian conference again because it's all about meeting boys. I wasn't there. You know so that was like 1 thing that was interesting from the Zoroastrian perspective and a bit of a shock to the system for having been here for 6 months and realizing that there are different kinds of Zoroastrians and like you know you're not going to necessarily find common ground just because you are Zoroastrian. But other than that like I guess that was 1 thing. But like in terms of like shock I think the only point in time I had any so shock about coming to the US was when I first came to the US because I just feel like I had no idea what I was getting into. The weather was a shock. The fact that I was probably like more well-read than most people in college was a shock. I just felt like you know my English shouldn't be better than yours like the things like that. I think there was a lot of learning for me to do. It was also humbling and I think that when we're growing up there are lots of things I feel like we judge people for when we are growing up in Pakistan and there are things like how well does somebody speak English for example. Guess what it doesn't matter. You know, but in Pakistan it's a symbol of status and wealth and people fixate on how big is your daddy's car and how well do you speak English and how big is your home and I'll be friends with you if all those things line up, And I loved that I was going to school with the janitor's son in college. I loved that there were kids who were first generation American in college with me. Points of making fun of people. And back home because it's such a status related society back there I feel because of the inequality. I just felt like there was a lot of good stuff here for me to learn as well. In New York, I felt like there was no shock. I felt like I was home and even though it's way more diverse than Pakistan and Karachi which are very homogenous societies. And New York is the exact opposite. You're lucky if you hear anyone speak English at all. And I just loved it. I wanted to absorb every moment of being there.

HC: Um I speak um English, Gujarati, Urdu uh and I speak, I'm gonna just like brag a little I speak Urdu a lot better than most Parsis do [laughs] which is very very like broken Urdu. I actually took I took it as an optional language to learn during my A levels which is what not what people do. They just do the mandatory Urdu classes and then get it over with and are super happy once they're over with it. But I had a very inspirational tutor in O levels and I decided to take it in A levels without a tutor and aced it. I loved being able to read the literature. I just think I like language and whether it is uh Urdu or whether it's English and Urdu is a super lyrical and poetic language in my opinion. So, those 3 and a little bit of Sindhi and then I'm learning Spanish at the moment.

SM: Can you think of other occasions when you felt you were treated unfairly especially because of your non-American origin?

HC: Let me think about it. I mean definitely I feel like the accent is 1 thing and probably the biggest thing. I feel like when you look at me, you can't necessarily tell where I'm from or you know you. Could be from anywhere but once I open my mouth there's no denying where I'm from. I was always conscious of it whether or not I was ever discriminated against. But as I told you there were instances of that as well. I feel like I saw in Minnesota to be precise black students for example, go through a lot worse of a time than I was going through. I felt privileged in some ways and at the same time I just felt like I wanted to even more be myself because of that. Because I don't I didn't want to like oh because people discriminate against anybody who's different I should stop being different. I didn't want to ever do that. I wanted to bring my culture and my identity to people. But if I think of other incidences where I was discriminated against because of my identity It's just it's not even like a big incident that needs to happen. It's subtle things and the way people say them to you without ever having been to Pakistan or without ever having come across anybody who's brown or really knowing. And while you don't remember each and every one of those moments, it does impact you and how you might perceive that person from that point on. I also felt like I'll tell you one other thing, people felt okay saying racist things in front of me about other groups. And I wanted them to always know right away that no, it's not okay. Just because I'm not from that place doesn't mean you can, that I'm complicit with your whiteness or with your racism or with whatever it is. Just because I'm cute enough to pass for whatever it is that you're threatened by doesn't mean I identify with that at all.

SM: I want you to reflect a little bit more on the time that has passed while you've been in the US. How has time changed your perspective of living here?

HC: It’s changed my perspective drastically. I think from the moment that I came here when I was super naive to the point that I am now where I recognize. So, I used to always think that America was like some amazing, amazing place which it is. It does have its merits, especially when you're coming from a developing nation like Pakistan. There is a lot. A lot that needs to change in Pakistan compared to America you actually just cannot change. You cannot compare those 2 places. But if you were to just look at the US or maybe compare it to another first world nation, I just think that there's been a dose of reality especially in recent years about what America is and what it stands for and who makes up America and where you fit in as a South Asian or brown person in America. And even the roles of brown people in America have changed as I was telling you. I think I see a lot more. It makes me so happy that I see a lot more representation on Tv of brown characters. There's the show Never Have I Ever. There is that new show on HBO which prominently features a desi woman in a very sexual role. But I just feel like change begins that way you know. We recently just lost Sidney Poitier who was like the first black actor in Hollywood. And so, we have a lot of representation now. There's Hassan Minhaj. There are lots of brown comedians and I think all of that is important. It's important to see all kinds of people practicing their cultures on tv to be able to normalize it as well. It's not just like you know Muslims praying in a mosque away and you don't even see them but like they're here on tv and they're normal. They're not like in a negative light. I think my perceptions of the US as this amazing, forward, accepting nation were challenged through the years and I feel like ya that's, they were challenged and I feel like it's not that I think less of it I just think of it as I would think of it as any other place. I don't hold it on a like it's not on a pedestal for me anymore. It’s home so I'm going to be not nationalistic about it, I'm going to be critical about it too just as I would of Pakistan for example.

SM: How has being in the United States affected family life so relationships with your parents and family back home, even developing various relationships in the US?

HC: For the longest time I led a double life. So, when I was younger and in undergrad I was living in an area without cell phones. I had a whatever you call it a landline. My parents would call me every day at a certain time, and I had to be by the phone at that point in time. Otherwise, I bought a phone card and I would call them so it was all a bit of a hassle, and obviously we've come such a long way since then and it makes me feel closer to them too. Because I would go home, at the first time I went home I'd been in the US for 2 years straight before I had enough money or whatever to be able to go back home and it felt so strange to be home for the first time. It just felt like where am I. Like everything seemed smaller and just felt like I needed a whole week or a week and a half or two weeks to feel normal again with my parents. It felt Even though we were talking on the phone every day, I was talking to strangers when I met them face to face again. A lot happened in that point and in those years where I couldn't visit as frequently as I would have liked. My pet of many years that I was growing up passed away -my dog. And I wasn't there for that. My uncle as I told you he was murdered, and I got the news over a telephone and there was not much I could do except grieve on my own. That was hard really really hard. I'm very thankful for the fact that this internet thing is bringing us all closer together and making distances and being so far away easier for a lot of people. In terms of other relationships my parents I thought would always want me to end up with a Parsi for example and I don't think ever put that as a criteria for finding a partner. So, there were lots of things that were a criteria but having the same religion was just not necessarily a deal breaker for me. But, having said that obviously I wanted to make my parents happy. I wanted to. I also maybe part of it was guilt and just being able to tell them “Hey I gave it a shot and now can I go do my own thing.” But my boyfriend before the person I married I did introduce them to him, and he was a white American and I vividly remember how petrified I was of breaking the news to them. That like hey I'm seeing this person I really like him but I had to tell myself I’m nearly thirty-five I should be able to say this to them. I can't live this double life where I'm like seeing this person and they know nothing about it and they're asking me every single day super worried like: Are you seeing anybody? Are you going to find somebody? What are you doing? They were constantly while I was in these relationships trying to introduce me to people. I was going out on dates with these Parsi guys who knew nothing about the fact that I was already dating somebody. So, there was that aspect of it and it felt like. So obviously when I met my husband to be this time around after a while, I didn't hesitate to introduce him because I'd seen how it went and it had gone well and I thought they would be happy because they were worried about me after my so I just felt like the trust. I feel like our relationship reached a new level because I could trust them with that. I don't have a lot of other barriers from my parents. I feel like I can talk to them about anything and everything and share everything with them. But this was the big main one and maybe the barrier was always in my mind and not really there and maybe I could have told them.

SM: So how has being married to somebody outside the community kind of impacted maybe your relationship or just the dynamics within the Parsi or Zoroastrian Community?

HC: I feel like for the most part it hasn't and I think that fifteen years ago you couldn't have said that. Because I remember when people when there were people in the colony who were getting married outside the community people talked about it and it was in a negative sense and they had to go and live somewhere else. And I do think the fact that I'm not in Karachi makes a huge difference. I don't know whether I would have that level of acceptance. But it's almost like a given. No, she lives in America so like obviously she's going to not be with a Parsi or like it's ok if she's with a gora or whatever it is. But I think I think like that at this point in time I wouldn't say it has affected any of my relationships in a negative way or. I think that I brought okay so we got married in a partially Parsi ceremony with a Dasturji and I say partially only because he didn't do the whole long like Zoroastrian wedding but. And most of the crowd was not Zoroastrian, so he did a little ceremony where he explained what he was going to pray in English and then he prayed it in Avesta and did the whole you know putting rice on me etc. So, our ceremonial wedding was entirely Zoroastrian. There was, he's catholic but not very practicing. It was entirely Zoroastrian. I found this priest he had married my cousin who was also Parsi to a Jewish man a while ago so I asked her. He himself is married to a white lady. He's really old. He's lovely. He's associated with the New York Fire Temple and uh so he agreed to do my wedding and David was 100% on board. He's like “Why can't I just be Zoroastrian” and I'm like cause you cannot. But I thought that it brought obviously people here. There's also a showmanship experience there. People here get to see all Christian weddings all the time. What's so unique and amazing about that. So, we both understood and wanted that the ceremony be Zoroastrian. In that sense I'm still like you know, very much a part of the community. Within a few months after we got married, I brought him to Pakistan. I showed him where we lived. He met, excuse me, all my relatives there and I don't think anybody ever even like passed a slightly sarcastic remark about our union. Everybody was super happy and jumping the gun and asking us when we were gonna have kids and the normal stuff essentially.

SM: Are you part of any organization particularly that represents any of your interests or your community?

HC: No, I am just part of the South Asian Journalist Association, SAJA but not part of any Zoroastrian meetup groups. I was when I was single. My roommate for many years in New York was a Zoroastrian from Bombay and the same age. This was a very formative thing for me like to have this girl Delnaz and we could totally talk about everything under the sun because of this shared experience of growing up Zoroastrian even though her she was in Delhi, uh in Mumbai, and I was in Karachi. So, no I wasn't but we went along to several meetups and conferences and things like that together. And it was nice to have somebody with you for that for moral support and such.

SM: What are some favorite things about the Zoroastrian community?

HC: Uh the food [laughs]. Let's just start with the most important part. I don't think that this is necessarily how it was intended to be but the fact that Zoroastrianism in some ways doesn't have as many dos and don'ts. I think it is a result of obviously being a really old religion and having lost a lot of the literature that would have probably dictated our norms and customs and what not. I think it allows you to build your own spirituality in some sense and I think that is good. I think the basic tenets of our religion which are, you know, Humata, Hukhta, Hvarashta, good thoughts, good words, good deeds is just such a simple rule by which one should always lead their life. You know, regardless of whether you're Zoroastrian or you're not Zoroastrian and just so easy to prescribe to, and I love that I think I also like being a novelty which Zoroastrians are. I mean you know you tell somebody you're a Zoroastrian you'll either get a very blank look of ignorance or you'll get an ecstatic person saying what you're Zoroastrian. “Oh my god you're the first Zoroastrian I've ever met.” You're right head of a textbook. And you're never going to meet another Zoroastrian again. But you know the reactions kind of range from that to that and both are awesome because if you meet the person who's totally ignorant about Zoroastrianism and you start telling them about Zoroastrianism you can just see their eyes getting bigger and being like “Wait! What this is so awesome.” Like you start describing the death, how we how we die, how we bury our dead or like the Navjote ceremony. I think I think it's always fun to be able to tell somebody. I love being from a rare community [laughs]. It's great. Yeah, there's always a point of conversation to be had there.

SM: So I mean, what does it mean for you to be a Zoroastrian in the United States?

HC: I think it's interesting because I don't think believe it or not it's very different from being a Zoroastrian in Pakistan because you're a minority there and you're a minority here. And I feel like obviously as many people know about it there as many people know about it here. Luckily and maybe other people might disagree but Parses are not persecuted in Pakistan. They're under the radar. They are a pretty well-off, educated great community there. They have their liberties obviously there could be more liberties, but those liberties could apply to everyone not just Zoroastrians. So, there's that aspect of it that I don't necessarily feel very different being a Zoroastrian in the US as I did like being a Zoroastrian in Pakistan. To me it is it is harder being a Zoroastrian in the US actually. And that's because you're not surrounded by the community. I don't live in a colony anymore. There aren't 2 fire temples within 20 minutes of me. There aren't frequent Navjotes and Lagans and weddings and other ceremonies to attend and meet your community and just have fifteen, twenty minutes to hang out with them. In fact, it's probably you know obviously the belonging is greater in Pakistan than in the US. Like I just feel like you really have to seek it out. I feel like more of an island in the US being a Zoroastrian than I did in Pakistan. I feel like it's an effort. Having said that like I wear my sudreh and kusti. I do my prayers like 3 times a day as and when I remember. I feel like probably fewer times than I used to and that's kind of what I mean that like it just is gradual, but it slips away from you and you kind of have to make this really concerted effort to still hold onto it. And to me like it's not the fact that I'm not connected to God if I don't do my prayers. But it's just like a nice little moment that I have to remember that and it just reminds me and I like having it to be able to do my prayers like. So, I feel like at least that is something that is close to me and I will always want to hold on to it, doing my sudreh and kusti prayers. I haven't ever really been to a fire temple in the US because it's just been way too far away from wherever I've lived. I just think those are sort of like the challenges of if you want to keep up with it and if you still want to really make it a part of your life your everyday life. You really have to try.

SM: What is one Zoroastrian tradition or principle that has meant the most to you and why?

HC: I think it's the sense of community is what I think, is what I value the most. Being a small community and really being there for each other is what makes it strong. And the community has greatly helped me I would say. Like you know and that’s why I say that. When I was trying to but go to Columbia as an undergrad there were certain several scholarships offered by organizations, Parsi organizations in Pakistan that my parents and I availed. Some of them were outright and some of them were things that you had to return so that the next person could avail those opportunities. And I think that like just building and knowing that you, if you fail there will be somebody to catch you, and there'll always be someone to help you is something you can only really find in a small community like the Parsis. And I think it's it’s one of their and it's one of our strengths. And something we should hold on to in the most generous way possible.

SM: Are there any traditions and beliefs that you've continued to practice since you migrated or maybe how have they changed since you've been living in the United States?

HC: Doing my sudreh kusti prayers is something I haven't given up on. I know many people who have. How has it changed? I would probably, my wardrobe would probably have been dictated by sudreh when I was new to the US [laughs] and now my wardrobe dictates whether I wear sudreh or not. So, in the summer I don't wear it as often as I wear it in winter. So, I think little things like that. I just feel like I was probably praying more often and performing this ritual more often and I don't perform it as often maybe as I used to. But it's one of the rituals that I've held on to.

SM: How important is it for you to stand out or fit in here particularly in relationship to your Zoroastrian and South Asian Identity? I know you've touched upon the South Asian part, but more to do with the Zoroastrian identity.

HC: It's not important for me to fit in. It's one of the reasons why when I got married it's not like I was just like hey we'll just do it whatever is convenient for you. It's also important for me to hold on to my roots and it's a part of my identity. I think being strong and confident in your own identity can only help you. It makes you a more secure person. I think I'm a loud and proud Zoroastrian without having to force it down other people's throats to be precise. So, I don't need to advertise it and I certainly don't need to tell anybody that I'm better because I'm Zoroastrian. Because I don't believe that. I think religion is a really you know private thing and one should just practice their own and let it be. In that way like obviously I don't want to stand out in the way of like telling people how I would do it as a Zoroastrian, but at the same time I don't need to do it like them. I'll do it my own way as a Zoroastrian.

SM: Do you have any opinions or comments about the Parsi, Irani divide in the community?

HC: I think there are a lot of points of conflict in the Parsi community. And I think obviously this is one of them. And yeah, I feel like my interactions were uh few and far between and had there been any tensions, I would have probably [laughs], I would have probably sided with the more tolerant perspective of it. I'll take this to a different point and the point being of tolerance. I think where it is great to be a Zoroastrian and great to belong to a small community, it also makes one very intolerant and small minded in many ways. And I'm very aware of that and I kind of don't stand for it, even among Zoroastrians. A more stark or drastic example would be that to compare Zoroastrians and us living in Pakistan. I always felt like Parsis looked down upon Muslims. That's how I felt. And I felt it was slight things and language, in the intonation and sometimes just outright that like oh look at these religious fanatics or whatever it was. You know, and even at that point in time I would speak up and just say that listen you know you are eating at their dining table, you are playing with their kids, you are doing everything you know you could possibly you were getting as close as you could possibly get to anyone you know and yet you feel superior in some ways. I don't know where that superiority comes from for any community but I think that it's the wrong and it's self destructional and it's the wrong way to go. I honestly felt like pretty much like an outsider in many ways. I think maybe I felt happy about going to the states in some ways. Because I couldn't relate to relate to it and then the other side of that was that I was growing up in a colony where a lot of the kids were rich as well. You know so there was like no like middle ground almost like I felt like I didn’t certainly belong with the rich kids either who were basically bullies. I did not get along with the others who thought “Oh look at this nerd who always has her head in a book and things probably that she's smarter than us. She doesn't know how to have fun. She doesn't know how to hang?” I didn't like get along with either of them and I feel like most of my closest friends were definitely Muslims and I used to cringe when people felt like they could say these things in front of me, their Islamophobic comments.

SM: So, what would you like to convey to the following generations?

HC: That there is a big [laughs] responsible question. I think as we know religion can be a wonderful guiding force or it can be very destructional. I feel like you can determine what it's going to be for you. And I think the best way to approach the world is not necessarily with the lens of religion or the lens of certain identity even but tolerance and acceptance and knowledge and kindness. I think if kindness guides you, you're probably going to do everything the right way. It'll all fall into place. I would hope that I do the same and I would hope that future generations are kinder to their you know mankind and to the planet. I think it's the next the next thing to be super worried about.

SM: And so, if you could put 3 things you own in a time capsule, what would they be?

HC: I would probably put a photo of my family and by that I mean my parents and my brother and his family, as well as my husband and his family. And we have of such a photo that was taken at our wedding and it's just basically all the people that I love most in this world and so I would want to you know save that for posterity. And I would probably put this little stuffed toy that I've had since I was a child. It's a little Muppet of Oscar the grouch who I related to. Not that I have a grouchy personality but like I just liked that he was not happy. You know and he has a good story because he was given to me probably by a cousin when I first visited the US as a child in 1988 when I was six years old. When I got him back my mom in true mom fashion didn't let me play with any of my toys that were that came from America because they were too precious. And if I played with them, I would have destroyed them. So, they stayed inside a drawer under lock and key and I could only take it out if I'd been really good and on occasion and play with it and pet it and whatnot. And when I was leaving for the US I brought him along. He was the only one of my toys that I took with me. So, he's basically made the journey from the US to Pakistan a few times now as many times maybe I have, and he's been in every single apartment and house that I've lived in and so he's just special. My mom had these beautiful sari’s that she was getting rid of, and I had one of them turned into a more modern crop top and it's a piece of a gara. A gara is a traditional sari cloth that's hand embroidered and often the motifs on it are birds or animals or flowers and it's very intricate and it was always worn by Parsi women on special occasions. I don't think you would wear a gara at a Parsi wedding like if you were the bride but you would certainly wear it as a guest. They're highly coveted now and they go for a lot of money but apart from that it's also just the detail of the work and how beautiful it is. And, it is super traditional but now is part of more of my modern wardrobe. But it also you know obviously reminds me of the blend that I am. Which is you know, now is an American living here but also a Parsi from Pakistan. When I wear it I feel like I'm embodying both and so that's something I would and it's beautiful and I would probably take that or put that in a time capsule.

SM: And so, our last question for the interview. How do you define home and what is home for you?

HC: So this is a question that I feel like I've reckoned with very recently. This year I became an American citizen after I came to the US in 2002 so nearly after 20 years of being in the US. It's just how hard the process is but I became a US citizen and I have just reached this point where I've now lived in the US maybe a year longer than I've lived in Pakistan, and it's a very strange point to be at because you're just you don't exactly identify with either place. And you don't fully belong to either place. So would I move back home and live there permanently. I know that I know the answer to that. That's a no for several reasons but the main one being I really really love the independence that I have in the US as a woman and the ability to follow my dreams. And the one big thing for me is that my parents are still in Pakistan and that's my pull. Also, the US part of it is that sure I can pass as an American but I'm very aware that again the minute I open my mouth I'm still going to be asked but where are you really from. And the answer to that will always be Pakistan and I'm not going to try and hide it. It just is and that's very much a part of my identity and I don't think I'm ever going to outgrow that and I don't want to outgrow that so I'm in this in-between place where I don't know whether either one of these places is truly home or both of these places are truly home. I also realize you know people do say that like home is wherever your family is and that's like you know that's what's important. But guess what I recently found out that's not necessarily true. You know, so I just after living for nearly fifteen years in New York just had to move for a couple of years to Oregon and I'm moving back to New York again. But every time I've left New York for even a small period of time I've found myself hurting and wanting to be back in New York so badly and I feel like when you live away from your family- your friends are your family, especially when you don't have kids or like all my friends live in New York. I've grown up there I've become an adult and come into my own in New York. I think it would be hard for me to deny that probably no other place is home to me as much as New York is. Yeah, having said that I guess I would conclude with that awesome city is home if I had to pick a place.

SM: We end the interview here. But before we stop recording, is there anything else you'd like to share?

HC: The one thing I would say is like the question you asked about like how relationships change when you leave. I feel like I have grown closer to my parents as I have grown older. Obviously, you know you always want to rebel when you're younger against everything your parents say. But I feel like as they grow older, it's harder for me to watch them grow older, and be at a distance and such a huge distance from them, and that's sort of like the downside of uh being far away.

SM: Thank you for sharing your story. I shall stop the recording now.

Collection: Sharmeen Mehri Fellowship Project
Donor: Havovi Cooper
Item History: 2022-06-10 (created); 2022-06-29 (modified)

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