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Ferdoshi Chowdhury Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Ferdoshi Chowdhury on July 5th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Ferdoshi was born in Sandwip, Bangladesh in 1976 and came to New York in 1989 but traveled back and forth to Bangladesh until permanently settling down in the city with her family in 1993. She talks about struggling to learn English, going to school and having to assimilate into American society. Although she struggled in school in the beginning, she had great support from her teachers which helped her succeed with her education and learning. Ferdoshi remembers her time growing up in Bangladesh and is grateful for being able to live in the United States and take care of her family. Ferdoshi now lives in Queens, New York with her husband and three kids.

Date: July 5, 2022
Type: Oral History
Creator: Subat Matin
Location: Queens, NY

MATIN: All right today is July 5th, 2022, and tell me your life story.

FERDOSHI: My name is Ferdoshi Chowdhury, I was born in 1976 in Bangladesh.

FERDOSHI: It was in a village. And I have four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. I'm the middle one and I was raised like half in America and half in Bangladesh. Also in Bangladesh, my childhood, mostly, I spent my childhood time in village. So, it was fun. I remember until fifth grade, I was there. It was fun, climbing the tree swimming, fishing, and playing with all of my cousins in my grandparents house. Every year we used to visit them. Then in 1986, we moved to a town, like a city, then that was a different life. So, I also like that too. There was also a struggle. We used to walk, go to school, walking. It was fun I was there until 10th grade. I see my sibling grow up, my cousin's, we have lots of fun. Then I came to America in 1989. So that was my first time and I was in sixth grade that time. My parents, actually my dad, bring us all, my siblings, my mom came together in 1989. This was the first time is like for visit or a vacation, you can say that one, then we left after two months, then you came back again in 1991.

So, we couldn't go after two months, because in Bangladesh, there was a flood going on. So, stay for longer. It was fun when you came busy. Go lots of places. Then in 1993 came back again, that was the final. I stayed here and I started my school here from 10th grade. Then my struggle started because I used to go to in Bengali school, everything was Bengali and here everything was totally different and everything was in English. I had a hard time to understand English and make friends. Like our culture, language, everything was different. I'll say food, like home food, okay fine, my mom cooked for us. But outside food, the lunch food I didn’t eat lunch. I couldn't talk with anybody because I don't know how to speak English properly.

With my teacher, with my classes, I had lots of struggle, especially my history class. That was so hard for me. The first time they give me the math that was very higher math. So that was also a struggle, but my teacher was so nice, she understood how to handle it and she told me to like to take the lower math, then you will do good. You're good in math, but the some of the parts are very high for you. So, she changed my math and history. Oh my God. Like I showed my report card to my kids a few days ago, and they were laughing, mom you failed history how? I said I don't know how to speak English and is so much to read and so much to understand. So, then I just passed like you know not with a high score. I did very good in math after that and I have a certificate because I did really good in math and ESL, I did good. I have to take global history four times and U.S. history two times. There were two more classes. Like here my school time is a struggle and also very memorable for me and my attendance was very good. I had certificate for my attendance too and my kids are laughing because they're saying you didn't cut it, you weren’t absent any day or being late, nothing. I said no, because my focus was, I had to go to school every day no cut, no late because I don't speak English that good so my attendance should be good so my teacher knows that she's trying. So that helps me a lot to do good in class.

So yeah, struggle is struggle. I then I find out few Bengali friends like, and there was Indian and Pakistani too. One day, I had a little incident, like one of the guy Pakistani guy come, like when I was coming back from school, and he was like coming with me. He was trying to hug me and walk with me. I said, What? What are you doing? And I kept running and I saw my mom that time because my school is not too far from my house. Also, there was a park so my mom wanted to go to the park and I saw my mom and I was like screaming mommy, mommy and like the guy go away and I ran. That was the one memory like is always in my mind. Like, I'm not that type of person.

MATIN: So, when you were in Bangladesh what did you know about American culture before you came?

FERDOSHI: Because I wasn't that big to know a lot of things. But a little bit, everybody is like... lots of white people. They're very nice, pretty looking, all these things and the food. I had a little bit of idea about the city, like Manhattan and they have twin towers and all these things. I know a little bit about that, the food, the people, how to talk to them, these kinds of ideas. Not it's not really that much. This is it like because I wasn't that, like, big to know more.

MATIN: Has your opinion changed after coming and living in America?

FERDOSHI: It’s the same thing, no because I didn't know that much. So, it's kind of like I grew up... my basic growing up is back home. But when is like, you know when I was here, I was 17. So mostly, like, also, I grew up here too. So that's the thing it’s like a mixing idea.

MATIN: What did you like about New York when you first came here?

FERDOSHI: The first time came here that was my studying time. So, I didn't think about it that much. But now I see the change and what I like about New York... people like our culture, people are growing up now, I like that part. The food and shopping in New York it’s more available than the other states. Those are the thing I like and as a Muslim I like New York because there’s more diversity in New York.

MATIN: Do you face any discrimination when you first came to New York?

FERDOSHI: Not like directly I face anything, but it was my feeling right? I feel like yeah, like, these people they don't like Bengalis. Like when they see Indian people. Yeah, I feel... I had a feeling that discrimination feeling, but not like directly any incident happened.

MATIN: Why do you... Why do you think you had this feeling? Was it because you were in a new environment or?

FERDOSHI: I had this feeling because I'm Indian and Bengali. My color.

MATIN: Do you think your skin color had an impact?

FERDOSHI: Yes, yes.

MATIN: Did it change your family after coming to New York?

FERDOSHI: My family? Yeah. So, I started high school from here then... and I was going to school. Then I got married when I was in high school.

MATIN: How old were you?

FERDOSHI: I was that time like 20.

MATIN: How do you meet your husband?

FERDOSHI: My parents. It's like an arranged marriage. So, my parents are the ones who did everything. And they told me okay, they find out a good guy and my father thinks this is a good time. This is the good guy, everything he find out, then it's like kind of... is my father is the one who, who did everything who choose everything. So, I didn't say no and said okay, fine and I got married. He worked in a hospital, he's a respiratory therapist. That was also my struggle time because I used to live in Brooklyn and my parents used to live in Brooklyn. So, my husband lived in Queens and his workplace very close to where he lived. That time I had like one more year to finish my school. I used to go back and forth from Queens to Brooklyn, like whenever he has off. I used to stay with him that two or three days. Then he dropped me off at school in the morning and picked me up in the evening. Sometimes I took a train to come back, but I used to stay in my parents’ house.

Then I go from there whenever he has worked. Then this was a struggle for a year but now I feel like that wasn’t a struggle that was a fun time for me. Now I feel like oh my God that time is very sweet for me because my husband used to pick me up and drop me off. Nothing... now I feel like that time was like really struggle then after one year I finally moved to Queens. Then after three and half years I finished my high school. After another three and a half years later after I got married, I had my first child. I have three kids now, one daughter and two sons. Now my son... my youngest son is 18 years old. So, I see lots of changes like when I grow up, now my kids grow up, they're 18 I see lots of changes when I grew up it wasn't like that, for me it’s a huge change. It’s a cultural change, it’s a religious change and food... there's food available now you can find the halal food everywhere right now. But when I was here the first time you couldn’t find any halal food. Like we used to eat like from McDonald's the burger and all those things. It was very hard to find halal food. So now some of the side I like now, but some of the things I don't like. The changes... some I like and some I don't like right now. The way I grew up, the way my parents would treat us, the way now I have to treat my kids, it is a huge change for me.

MATIN: What do you think is the biggest difference?

FERDOSHI: For me is the changes like in my time if our parents say anything to us, even though like I don't want to do it but you don't say anything to our parents. Like okay, I'm not going to do that, I don't like what you are saying. We just kept quiet and didn’t say anything. But now the generation of kids they say it... whatever their parents say they have to say something because not saying is the right thing to do. But now the generation... I don't want to say they are not listening to their parents, but they want to speak up. But my generation didn't ever speak out. The thing... we used to listen our parents what they want, what they're trying to think about it, but now the thing is... like whatever I learn from my kids, I see things. The parents cannot say anything about what they want to do. They're like, whatever I like I want to do it. Whatever you’re telling me to do, maybe that's not who I am, that's not who... I'm going to like whatever you are saying, maybe I don't like that subject, maybe I don't like this thing. I want to do on my own, what I like that's going to make me happy.

And whatever you are saying that’s if I do it, I can do it for you, but it's not going to make me happy. So, I understand what their saying, but in our generation, it wasn't like that. But that doesn't mean I don't want to support my kids and whatever they are saying is wrong. It’s not wrong, in one way they are right. At the end, you have to be happy yourself with what are you doing. If you're not happy, you cannot do anything. You have to be happy yourself first and you have to like what you're doing. So, I told my kids, okay, I don't have any anything to say. I have my support. But you guys have to do good, you guys have to be a good person, and have to be an honest person. These are the things I want from you guys and these are the quality you guys should have no matter what you want to be, these are the qualities always be truthful and always be honest. Whatever you want to do, do it from your heart don't hurt anybody these are the things. There is change of course there is change. But yeah.

MATIN: Did you choose to speak English when you came to America or did you have to learn because you were going to school?

FERDOSHI: I had to learn and there is a lot of things that I missed and my father always used to be like, you have to speak at Bangla and you have to write a letter in Bangladesh. That time the phone and all this thing it was very difficult and the phone bill if you want to talk in Bangladesh it was going to be $500- $1,000 if you talk like a month for two, three, four, five hours. It was $1,000, $800, $500 for your phone bill. So, we used to write a letter in Bangla. So, I had to write ten letters, if anybody was going back home to Bangladesh, I have to write ten letters for my grandma, my aunt, uncle, cousin. Eight to ten letters I used to write, and all my siblings, they always to do that. Speaking English, I had to learn because I'm going to school and for school, I have to learn English and for speaking, writing and also, from my school, my teacher used to... because I was an ESL student, my teacher used to tell us to watch TV, read the paper and watch the news...all these things. So that's why I had to learn English like speaking and mostly for speaking.

MATIN: What was the hardest part of coming to New York and leaving your family involved in this?

FERDOSHI: Actually like, I move with my mom, all of my brothers and sisters. We moved together so yeah, I missed my grandma a lot because I used to sleep next to her. Mostly, I missed my grandma, that's the main thing. The food because my mom used to cook for us so I didn't miss the food. My grandma is first and then my aunt, uncle all these things. But because I didn't miss that much because my mom dad and my siblings, we were all together.

MATIN: Did you visit Bangladesh often?

FERDOSHI: Oh no. After 93’ I went in 1997 back for the first time after I got married in 1996 and the second time 2014 with my husband and my kids. That's all.

MATIN: Do you consider America or Bangladesh your home now?

FERDOSHI: Now here because I feel like my... most of the time is spent here. So, like going back home now I don't think any more, going back home and staying there.

MATIN: Do you keep in contact with any family?

FERDOSHI: Yeah, like now (there is) lots of social media and all these things. So, I found out lots of friends and we have a group and I found my school friend, we talk and I send lots of gifts. One of my friends we (connected) after 25 years, we had a program and they sent me also a gift and after, I don't know how many years, 23 years after I find all my friends, school friends and all the things. That makes me happy. That's why, like, I want to go back home to see all my school friends, high school friends, and elementary school friend.

MATIN: So, since you came here at a young age, did you see Bangladeshi women having to work outside of the household?

FERDOSHI: Ah, yes. Lots of Bangladeshi women they struggle here, but I think I'm the luckiest person because my husband, he didn't force me or anything, but also, I choose to raise my kids. And also like, I had my in-laws with me, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law passed away in 2008 and my father-in-law passed away 2022.

MATIN: Did you see any differences between how women are treated or any gender differences in Bangladesh compared to living in America?

FERDOSHI: Ah, yes, lots of changes in our generation. Bangladesh changed and also here. Here mostly like, yeah, there's more freedom to work. Women have more freedom, they can work. I feel like it's more easy here for a woman to work and also, it's hard to like maintaining your culture, maintaining your religious. These are the things that are hard. Mostly like a religious purpose is working as a woman it's hard, it's not easy. I know I didn't work, I used to work when I was in school before I get married. So, when I got married, I never worked. I worked at home, like babysitting and tutoring, but not from outside. But I have... I have seen and I heard things from people. It’s a lot of struggle and it's not easy for women to work.

MATIN: How do you think the roles of men and women in Bangladesh have changed over the time in Bangladesh and in the U.S.?

FERDOSHI: It’s the same thing. Now in Bangladesh, in like, when we grow up, from that time to now there's lots of change in Bangladesh. Now they're more educated, the women, the girls, they want to work. Their working. There is lots of women now working before they get married and also after they get married. But when I grew up, it wasn't easy. There were women who worked as teachers, doctors, but in normal... other side, it wasn't easy for women to work. Now lots of things, the women are working from home back home and also here. The women are like they are working from home, they can open up a business, online business, now I feel like it's more easier now than back then. Like 15-20 years ago, it wasn't that easy, now it's easy. Women can do whatever they want to do, whatever they like to do.

MATIN: How do you think of your role as a wife and mother have changed over the course of your marriage since arriving in the U.S.?

FERDOSHI: Yeah. As wife and as a mom, there's lots of changes. Also, it was hard for me, being a wife and also being a mom. I also am living with my in-laws, especially with my in-laws. So yeah, there were lots of issue going on. So, I was always proud of myself because I have three kids and... I don’t know I always get emotional because that time I struggled. Raising my kids, my daughter, she was three and a half and then I have another child and then after 20 months, I have another child. So, it's taking care of three kids, taking care of my husband, taking care of my in-laws staying with them. I have my father-in-law, mother-in-law, and two brothers-in-laws, it wasn’t easy for me. So, yeah, I had struggled. I go over it, I did it and I'm proud of myself now. My kids are proud of me. Because now I miss my father-in-law so much, he died this year. And now I feel like I spend more time with my father-in-law than when my dad because I got married at 20 years old. So, my father used to live in America when I born and he came here in 1976. So, when I grew up, I didn't see my father that much. He used to come once a year. And I didn't know that was my father. My father used to tell me that like, I didn't call him dad, because I didn't know he’s, my dad. So, I grew up until 17 years... when I was 17, I came here. That time I saw my father, then after four years, I got married. So, from 1996 to 2022, I stay with my father-in-law. So sometimes I feel like, oh my God, I spent more more time with my father-in-law than my father so I miss him a lot. But there was lots of struggle because of the three kids. For me, it wasn't easy my husband used to work at night and I used to handle everything because he worked at night and when he came home, he used to sleep then he goes back to work again. Then in the middle of the time in 2005 I had a fire in my house too. So that was another struggle for us. So, thank Allah now everything is okay. Everything is fine. But whenever I remember that time, I don't know. I get emotional because I had a lot of struggles.

MATIN: What kinds of traditions and customs did you keep and pass down to your children?

FERDOSHI: The traditions like the cultural things, like the food and the clothing. They like... if I'm making traditionally like the chicken, curry, daal (lentil soup), chingri (shrimp) so my kids like that. And they like baath in English rice in Bangla we called it baath. So, all my kids like after two or three days they have to eat baath with daal, chicken, chingri. Chingri is shrimp. So yeah, that’s one thing they like and whenever we have our Muslim holiday, the dresses like what you call it?

MATIN: The traditional?

FERDOSHI: The traditional dress and they like. They wear panjabi and salwar kameez all these things. These are the things that I think I pass (onto) them to carry on.

MATIN: Did you face any challenges in trying to pass down these traditions?

FERDOSHI: Um, no, because all my family member libes here so New York is like more diverse and New York has more desi people. When they went to school, they grew up with desi people, the neighbors and all these things so it wasn't that hard for me to pass it to them. So, they like it. Yeah, they like the end... for Muslim there one month of Ramadan and they like Ramadan food, there is a special food in Ramadan. Also, the two big holidays for Muslim people. They like that and yeah.

MATIN: What do you think makes a Bangladeshi? What do you consider to be Bangladeshi cultural traits or identity?

FERDOSHI: Can you explain it to me in Bangla?

MATIN: For instance, in our Bangladeshi culture what do you think makes a Bangladeshi person? Like are there certain traits?

FERDOSHI: Okay. Okay I got it. Yeah, sometimes yeah. If someone wears salwar kameez. Yeah, and also the food.

MATIN: Do you see any problems with Bangladeshi culture? Do you like Bangladeshi culture?

FERDOSHI: Yeah, I like Bangladeshi culture. I don’t see any problems with it.

MATIN: What do you like about it?

FERDOSHI: My food wherever I go for vacation we look for desi food like at least rice like something with rice. So, there is this one thing I used to like a saree, Bangladeshi and Indian people wear saree and that was my favorite dress to wear. So yeah.

MATIN: Do you consider yourself to be a Bangladeshi or an American?

FERDOSHI: Even though I like I spend most of the time here, but I consider Bangladeshi because I'm proud to say I’m Bangladeshi because of our food. I think everybody likes Bangladeshi food and Indian food. Yeah, everywhere I see. The other people not only desi people eat desi food. The other cultures they also eat desi food too so that makes me happy.

MATIN: What is the difference between being Bangladeshi- American and just Bangladeshi?

FERDOSHI: What is the difference? Bangladeshi American and Bangladeshi?

MATIN: Just Bangladeshi? Like how would your children or your family see their identity? As Bangladeshi or Bangladeshi-American?

FERDOSHI: My kids they're like American and I'm mix.

MATIN: So, what was the Bangladeshi community like when you were in Brooklyn, when you lived in Brooklyn?

FERDOSHI: I lived actually like my father is to live very far away from the Bangladeshi community. I used to live in Bay Ridge so there wasn’t any Bangladeshi in that time. So, I couldn't like...what was your question?

MATIN: What was the Bangladeshi community like when you lived in Brooklyn?

FERDOSHI: Yeah, so yeah that's what I said like we used to live in Bay Ridge so there weren’t any Bangladeshi people. Very rarely we would see one or two people that were Bangladeshi because my father used to think like... he was a little isolated from the Bangladeshi neighborhood.

MATIN: So where would you meet these Bangladeshi people?

FERDOSHI: It’s day by day, year by year it’s growing with Bangladeshi people. Bangladeshi people growing because of the immigrant visa so that's how, you know we would meet Bangladeshi people. After I got married, the apartment I used to live in there was lots of Bangladeshi people. That's how and because of the immigrant visa, everywhere now is you can find, especially in New York, you can find desi people.

MATIN: What kinds of struggles or challenges do you think Bangladeshis face in New York?

FERDOSHI: I think the work and the language problem. These are the things like finding work. The salary, and mostly like the speaking thing.

MATIN: Are you part of any Bangladeshi organizations?


MATIN: Do you know of any organizations?

FERDOSHI: Yeah, I know there's lots of organizations, but because I was always busy raising the kids it was hard for me, because my husband worked at night, so I couldn't like join so many things. Another thing is all my family members they live here so whenever we had off, we used to go to them, so I couldn't do all the organization things. But I used to like to start doing Bengali with my kids and take them to how to write and read Bangla, so I used to take them for like... not for too long, then it wasn't working out because of the time.

MATIN: Were you told of any stories or history?


MATIN: About Bangladesh when you were in school?

FERDOSHI: Yeah, yeah.

MATIN: What kinds of stories?

FERDOSHI: Because I was up to 10th grade in Bangladesh and I told them (kids) how I used to go to school, we used to walk in the rain, we used to call it rickshaw, when it rained, we used to take rickshaws. The way the boys treated us, what we used to do in school those are the things.

MATIN: When you were in school in Bangladesh, did you ever hear stories of the time when Britain still had control over like the Bengal region?

FERDOSHI: Oh, no, no, because that happened before I born, so I couldn't experience anything. But I heard from school, I heard from my parents for them. Also, from my father-in-law, there was lots of struggle for them. Prices were rising, everything was raising high and they used to be scared because the war going on. These are the things I heard.

MATIN: What are your thoughts and opinion on the 1971 Bangladesh genocide?

FERDOSHI: Um, my thought and opinion, yeah, like, whatever we did is because we will fight for our own country, because we want our right to speak Bangla. We don't want two countries together. And yeah, that's what they support. We can claim, oh this is Bangladesh, and we are not part of Pakistan or anything. We are our own.

MATIN: Did you know... Did your family know of anyone that fought in the war?

FERDOSHI: Um, yeah. I think one of my uncle and I heard one of my brother-in-law, also.

MATIN: Do you know anything about them? Were you told anything about them?

FERDOSHI: No, not that (much) in details.

MATIN: What do you think is important about Bangladesh’s history?

FERDOSHI: Bangladesh’s history? Can you say it in Bangla so that I can understand it more.

MATIN: For instance, from all the history about Bangladesh like the British control and when Bangladesh was East Pakistan, what do you think is the most important?

FERDOSHI: Okay. Okay. I got it. I don't know, you heard about that, but the language there was a day, you know, Ekushey February, that was for the language. These (people) are the only ones who fought for the language. So, that’s for me what I think is important because that's how we speak Bangla now.

MATIN: Going to school in Bangladesh, did you ever learn about New York or United States history?

FERDOSHI: I learned about it a little bit. I don't think I had that class. But I heard when my sister was in college when they used to learn it. I heard about New York.

MATIN: What did you hear about New York?

FERDOSHI: Like New York never sleeps.

MATIN: What was your immigration process like for you coming to New York?

FERDOSHI: Um, my immigration process was really, I would say it was not too easy, not too hard because my father applied for us. So, that how we, but there was a lot of processing, interviews going on all these things. We used to go back and forth in Dhaka and Chittagong. You know there was lots of things going on, the investigation and all these things so yeah.

MATIN: How did you feel when you became a citizen of America?

FERDOSHI: I feel proud because I had to go to the interview. So, you know, I have to study for that, too. I have to know what is going on. I have to know who the President is, I have to know how many colors are in United States flag and the Governor and the Mayor. You have to know a lot of things about the United States. So that was that was hard and fun now, I feel like oh it was fun to know these things.

MATIN: What did you like when you first came to New York? Like Were you surprised about American culture about New York?

FERDOSHI: The first time in 1989, so like the cold. We have to wear a jacket, ha, hand gloves. All this thing and too cold and snow... snowing.

MATIN: What do you like about New York?

FERDOSHI: I like about New York its diversity.

MATIN: Do you still remember your life in Bangladesh?


MATIN: What was your favorite memory of Bangladesh and your life there?

FERDOSHI: Like climbing the trees, swimming, fishing, catching fishes. Yeah. Walking, like how I used to walk from my dad’s house to my mom’s house like my grandma from my mom's side. Yeah, we used to walk there and it was like half an hour walk. And I don't know how I’m going to explain that in English. I don't know there was water and you have you have to cross that thing with the bamboo thing they used to have and we used to cross that. Like, if you trip or anything, you're going to fall in the water. So, when we were little, I remember my uncle used to hold us and he used to cross to help us to cross the thing.

MATIN: What do you miss about living in Bangladesh?

FERDOSHI: These are the thing I miss. Now even back home in village lots of things changed, but I miss those things.

MATIN: How did you keep track of events that took place in Bangladesh after you came to America?

FERDOSHI: Can you explain that in Bangla?

MATIN: When you first came to America when something happened in Bangladesh, how did you find out about it?

FERDOSHI: So, when I came... now it’s easy, now we can watch TV, read newspaper all these things but like when I came that wasn’t easy. So, you heard from people like if anybody calls these things are happening all these things. So, now it's easy like if you open the news, it’s happening the at the same time, you can watch whatever they're broadcasting there and I can watch here too. That time the newspaper, like every month or something there was a newspaper or you call a few relatives and if they say anything that’s how we found out.

MATIN: Is there anything you would change about your life or your immigration journey coming to America?


MATIN: Do you have any regrets?


MATIN: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

FERDOSHI: Being here?

MATIN: Or anything in your life that you're most proud of.

FERDOSHI: I'm proud of like I came here and I went to school and marrying a good husband and raising my kids. These are things I'm proud of.

Collection: Subat Matin Oral History Interviews
Donor: Subat Matin
Item History: 2023-04-06 (created); 2023-04-06 (modified)

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