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Shahajan Begum Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Shahajan Begum on July 5th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Begum was born in Sandwip, Bangladesh and first came to Brooklyn, New York in 1989. She begins by talking about her childhood in Bangladesh where she lived with her parents, grandmother and seven siblings. Begum’s mom raised her and her siblings alone because her father was always working abroad. She got married at the age of fourteen and lived with her in laws. Begum explains that because she got married young, she was unable to stay in school and complete her education. Throughout the interview Begum reminisces about life back in Bangladesh and claims that holding onto the memories is all that she has left.

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

MATIN: Tell me your life story.

BEGUM: Do I have to say my date of birth?

MATIN: Say your name.

BEGUM: Shahajan Begum.

MATIN: You don’t have to say your date of birth. Where were you born?

BEGUM: Sandwip.

MATIN: What was your life like in Bangladesh? Start with your childhood.

BEGUM: In my childhood my mother... we were seven siblings and we were doing good. My mother took care of us, my dadi (paternal grandma) was there and my father worked abroad. My mother raised her kids, how they were going to study, she made us study Arabic and Bangla here and there. Then after I got married...I got married young and accepted everything that my in-laws told me to do. They took care of and raised me. My in laws used to say I am their first sons wife and they loved me a lot. My husband worked abroad and after I had children, I took care of them and didn’t know how I was going to raise them.

My in-laws also helped and took care of the kids. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to raise the kids, my husband was abroad, what was I going to do? Even with my in-laws I didn’t know what to do and I talked to my in-laws about the kids and they helped me with them. They went to school, I thought about are they going to be able to study well? I’m taking care of them, their father isn’t here, how am I going to raise them or how am I going to do anything? I would think about all of that, but praise to Allah it went well. Even after they came here my kids got their education and everyone is working and doing well. I am also doing good now praise Allah with my grandchildren and everyone. That is what’s happening now. I am here now, praise Allah.

MATIN: When you were at school what kinds of things did you do?

BEGUM: I wasn’t in school for long, but the education I was able to get, I can here and there do things by myself and be a little bit more independent. Then my father got me married.

MATIN: How old were you when you got married?
BEGUM: I got married when I was 14 years old. That’s why I couldn’t continue my education. My father was religious which is why he said he wasn’t going to let his daughter continue to get an education. I got married and was living with my in-laws. It was hard for me to do things there, to accept everything, but I tried and learned how to accept my in-laws, what I could do, how I could live with my sisters-in-laws. Praise to Allah I did all of that and my in-laws were happy and said that their daughter-in-law is lucky. My dadi also helped me a lot. My brothers... everyone who was older than me helped me a lot and used to go see me. When I used to cook my in-laws liked that and my father-in-law used to say that so what if my daughter-in-law is young, she can do everything. I also used to try to do everything like all of the work even if I was young and I got married I was able to do a lot of work. In our village we had spinach (to grow) and rice farming so I had to get the wheat and turn that into rice and then boil it. I used to do all of that by myself. My children... first there was two so I maintained those two, my in-laws, cooking and my in-laws loved me.

MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh did you hear about America or New York?

BEGUM: New York, actually I heard about it before, but after I moved to Chittagong that is when I heard more about it. When your grandpa (meaning her husband) came to America... I came in 89’ then I heard.

MATIN: When you first came to America in 89’, how did you feel after seeing America?

BEGUM: In America, I did not like it. At first, we left my mother-in-law in Bangladesh for about three years so I would come back and forth and stay one to two months. My mother-in-law used to cry a lot for me and my kids so I used to tell your grandpa that I’m going to leave. I left my mother-in-law... my whole life I was with her and if I leave her now and she is upset with me and my kids that won’t be good. So that is why we would leave. Until 93’ I would stay for a few months and then leave for my mother-in-law. When my mother-in-law got sick in 95’ I did everything for my mother-in-law. She was in bed for 4 years, from changing her diapers, to feeding her, even when your grandpa used to come and visit us, I used to stay the night with my mother-in-law and take care of her. I was worried that if something happened to my mother-in-law or at night if she faints, I didn’t leave my mother-in-law or go anywhere for those 4 years. I did everything, I gave food three to four times a day by blending it. No matter what, I never upset or hurt her my mother-in-law. As long as my mother-in-law was alive, I stayed in Bangladesh and didn’t come to America and stay.

MATIN: Why did you leave Bangladesh?

BEGUM: I left because my kids were older and your grandpa would say that we have to take them America and you have to go as well. I used to leave Nahid (the name of her youngest daughter) and the rest and go see my mother-in-law in Bangladesh. I had to come for my kids, they were going to study here and if we didn’t come on time, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything. But praise Allah after coming here the way I raised my kids they are now able to live their own lives. Now praise Allah we are good, your grandpa, my family is here and I am here with everyone praise Allah, everything is good thank Allah. That’s why I’m here, but I want to leave America because Bangladesh is our own country, I was born there, and I love desh better. My Bangladesh.

MATIN: When you first came to New York, what kinds of experiences did you have? Like when you came to America, what did you face?

BEGUM: By myself I didn’t really do anything. I used to go everywhere with your grandpa and then after when your aunts were a little older, I went with them. With Naidha (name of her daughter) I could take her school and drop her off by myself. After when she went to school further away your grandpa would take her. I could take care of them by myself while your grandpa was at work. I could do everything by myself praise Allah.

MATIN: What was the hardest thing for you when you left Bangladesh? What was difficult for you leaving Bangladesh? What did you feel bad about?

BEGUM: I felt bad leaving my parents. My mother used to love me the most and coming here it was hard for me to stay here. I wanted to stay in Bangladesh, but I couldn’t stay because of my kids.

MATIN: Were you able to speak English? Did you learn how to speak English?

BEGUM: I don’t know a lot of English. I understand but don’t know how to respond, just a few things I can say. I didn’t try to speak English.


BEGUM: I didn’t because I thought it was going to be a hassle. By hassle I mean I was scared because I didn’t go anywhere by myself, even if I went to the doctors. I can understand a little but can’t speak it. They (doctors) ask about desh and how we like it, how I am feeling right now, what happened. When they ask me these, I can respond a little bit, but can’t say a lot. They also give me translators to help with Bangla.

MATIN: Do you think if you learned how to speak English it would have been easier or better?

BEGUM: If I learned how to speak English it would’ve been good for me. I would have been able to do things by myself like going to the doctors instead of someone going with me. But before I didn’t really realize that. If I had realized earlier... I had the brains for it but since I was here and I had everyone like my kids and husband that’s why I didn’t really like English.

MATIN: While you were in America did you still have contact with your relatives?

BEGUM: Yes, I used to contact them all of the time and I still do praise Allah. I talk to my relatives and if I don’t talk to people from our country, I don’t like it. I have relatives here too and even if they are distanced relatives, I still want to get along with them. Even if I see someone here for a day, I feel really good because there from Bangladesh and if I talk to them, I feel good.

MATIN: How did you keep in touch with your relatives back in Bangladesh?

BEGUM: We used to talk on the telephone in Bangla. Everyone used to tell me you lived here for so long and don’t know English? I say if I wanted to, I could have learned how to speak English, but I didn’t really want to. Like I said I had my kids that’s why I didn’t really learn how to speak. Your grandpa was with me, my daughters and sons so I used to speak in Bangla with everyone. People used to laugh and ask “why didn’t you learn t speak English after all these years” so I said I didn’t like it that’s why I didn’t learn.

BEGUM: What did you relatives back in Bangladesh think about you since you lived in America?

BEGUM: They used to think that... my brothers used to say “you went to America may Allah keep you happy because you went to America... because our brother-in-law went to America praise to Allah, we are all doing good. You guys are taking care of us and our brother-in-law also takes care of us and so do you.” My siblings rely upon me and love me. My older sister... our mother passed away from an accident so I was always sad which is why I like getting along with everyone even here. When I left Brooklyn, I remember everyone that is there, but I can’t always go to see them because your grandpa doesn’t drive anymore, I can’t go see everyone that I know in Brooklyn.

MATIN: When did you leave Brooklyn and come to Queens?

BEGUM: I left Brooklyn... actually granddaughter I don’t remember exactly, but it’s been fourteen years.

MATIN: Fourteen years since you guys have been in Queens?

BEGUM: Yes, in Queens. When we used to live there... but my Hossna (name of elder daughter) bought a house and she didn’t have kids then so she said you guys are going to live with me. So, because of her we moved to Queens and after we came two years later, she had kids and I took care of her two kids, they born one year after the other. Since I was taking care of them, I didn’t go anywhere. After years Allah gave my daughter two kids and I took care of them. That’s why I left Brooklyn or else I would have stayed.

MATIN: When you first came to America did you live in Brooklyn or come straight to Queens?

BEGUM: No when I first came my daughter used to live with us because she didn’t have any children until we came in 93’ she stayed with me and two years before she had kids she moved to Queens and brought us with her. When my younger son got married, he didn’t ask us to stay with him so we just went and lived with Hossna. I used to say that the Bengalis are here and I don’t want to go there. My son used to get mad that we didn’t go see him so we stayed with Hossna. We liked her and her kids still like us. Their mom and dad used to work all the time so me and your grandpa took care of my grandkids. Now that they’re a little older they still want to stay with us. Now that she has her family, we distanced a little bit (meaning living by themselves). We still see them and my daughter, son-in-law and especially my grandkids say “nanu you can’t leave from here.” I have illnesses now so I can’t do a lot of things for them.

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

BEGUM: Here, my kids have houses and I don’t own any houses, but my children all have their own houses.

MATIN: In Bangladesh?

BEGUM: In Bangladesh I have my own house and I wish I could leave here and go there, but I can’t leave my kids.

MATIN: When you first came to America you had to take care of your husband and kids, did you do the same thing in Bangladesh?

BEGUM: In Bangladesh I did the same. When your grandpa used to visit, I had to take care of him. But here I don’t really have to take care of your grandpa. He does things for me now since I have some aches and pain so he does it.

I took care of kids too and when they got older my kids took care of themselves. Sometimes I would have to intervene and watch what they were doing. They went to school I would make sure the kids were doing their homework and taking care of them. Since my husband would be at work, I used to be extra careful of my kids. I had to make sure that they were not only doing their homework, but also praying and reading Arabic, I would tell them to these. I wanted to be more careful because my kids came to this country and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to raise my kids the right way and your grandpa was at work.

MATIN: Did you ever work outside of the home? Or did you stay at home?

BEGUM: I never worked outside and only stayed at home. My husband didn’t like it either and neither did. Your grandpa had his own business which is why I didn’t work anywhere.

MATIN: Do you think women’s role changed from Bangladesh after coming to America or is it the same?

BEGUM: Well, I am the same praise Allah. I believe that how I was in Bangladesh and if I stay the same here... one day you’re going to have to die which is why I didn’t want to let go of my Bangladeshi culture.
MATIN: Besides you, you saw other Bengali women here after you came, so you think their roles changed? Like their roles at home or working outside of the home? For instance, you didn’t work, but a lot of women had to, so what differences did you see?

BEGUM: The difference is that a lot of Muslim women like the Arab women used to live like us, but there are other women who did not.

MATIN: What did you see within our Bangladeshi women? What changed within Bangladeshi women?

BEGUM: Bangladeshi women live through purdah and the teachings of Islam and women here don’t do that which is why I didn’t like it.

MATIN: When you came here what kinds of Bangladeshi traditions did you teach your kids?

BEGUM: I taught them and always told them... your grandpa only spoke Bangla with them and so did I. When they came home from school and spoke English, we spoke Bangla and told them to speak Bangla at home. I taught everyone Bangla, how to pray and told them to learn things in Bangla as well. I made sure my kids learned how to speak Bangla at home with us and that they were also praying. I wanted them to learn Bangla and about our religion. Naidha (name of her daughter) grew up here that’s why I took care of her the most to make sure she’s on the path of learning Bangla and about our religion. The other kids were already older when they came so praise Allah, they kept Bangladeshi culture.

MATIN: What did you find the most challenging in keeping Bangladeshi culture? For instance, having to teach your kids about Bangladeshi culture, what about that was hard for you?

BEGUM: Keeping Bangladeshi culture was something I wanted them to have. Whatever way was possible I wanted to keep Bangladeshi traditions. Even now with my grandchildren I’m trying to teach them, do this, do that, we grew up like this in Bangladesh. It was in my will to make my kids and my grandkids learn about Bangladeshi culture and preserve it.

MATIN: When you came to America were you able to find halal and Bengali food?

BEGUM: Yes, then we found halal foods. When we first came our Bengali community had stores in McDonald Avenue and that’s where we used to get halal foods. Your grandpa would take the kids and get halal foods and made sure what we were getting was halal. My children only used to eat halal and at school I would write it down as well. I used to tell them “this is not halal so don’t eat that” and they would eat that way.

MATIN: When your kids used to go to school did you take them or your husband took them?

BEGUM: I would take Naidha (name of her daughter) and the others would go with your grandpa. Naidha was small and we lived on 84th street so her school was on 85th and it was closer so until she was in sixth grade, I was able to take her to school then your grandpa used to take her.
MATIN: When you had to talk to your kids teachers did you do that by yourself or your husband had to help you?

BEGUM: Sometimes your grandpa used to go and sometimes he used to tell me that if I didn’t understand everything that was fine because Naidha can tell you. When there was a meeting, I did go, but I took Naidha with me so some things that I didn’t understand Naidha told me what they were saying. Then when I would get her report cards the teachers knew that I didn’t understand everything in English so they would explain it to my daughter so that she can tell me.
My daughters teachers would tell her that that they liked how I didn’t let go of my Bangladeshi culture and when I wore burqa, they would say how nice it is. When I was here there was not a lot of Muslims or Bangladeshi women. They were, but where we were in Brooklyn that time there was not a lot of Bengali people, more of them were in McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn. Where we stayed in Bay Ridge, they (teachers) used to my husband that they thought I was nice and liked that I didn’t let go of our Bangladeshi culture and appreciated that we were following our religion, they would say that all the time.

MATIN: How did you know if someone was a Bangladeshi in America?

BEGUM: If I saw someone, I knew that they were Bangladeshi and when I knew they were I would ask them “are you Bengali?” because some people did not like behave or present as Bengali and some people did. I would think and then ask them especially if I saw anyone after picking up Naidha from school and they would respond back “yes I am Bengali” and I wouldn’t say anything. But I used to think they came from Bangladesh and already adapted to this country’s culture and I used to feel bad.

MATIN: After you came here did you consider yourself Bangladeshi or American?

BEGUM: I would always tell myself that I am Bangladeshi and I don’t want to be an American.


BEGUM: I don’t like the way people behave in this country. I tell my children and still tell them and my grandchildren as well not to adapt to culture of this country. We’re Muslim and we are going have to answer to Allah, why would like the environment of this country. I don’t like it and I try to keep my children on the right path and praise Allah they are, but the rest depends now after we leave this earth how they will be. I don’t know.

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

BEGUM: The difference is that the way they present themselves that looks different.

MATIN: Bangladeshi-Americans are your grandchildren because their Bangladeshi, but also American since they were born here. Their Bangladeshi-American.

BEGUM: No, I don’t tell them that and they still act like Muslims like Bengali people praise Allah.

MATIN: How does Islam influence Bangladeshi culture?

BEGUM: In our religion we have to pray, call upon Allah and also follow Allah’s rules. So, what if we came to this country that why I tell them (kids) they can’t do certain things because it’s not good for us and we have to answer to Allah. We’re elders and parent as well and we tell my kids and grandchildren. I’m trying and that’s why I like our religion.

MATIN: When you first came to New York where did you meet other Bangladeshi people? Or was there not a lot of people?

BEGUM: No there was a lot of people. Where I used to live in Brooklyn, over there I met people from Bangladesh and a lot of people from Sandwip as well. Your grandpa came a long time ago and he knew people so we used to visit each other’s houses and liked everyone and they liked us. I enjoyed that. I met people and that time there was a lot of Bengali people that were here.

MATIN: When you came to New York what kind of challenges did you face? Any difficulties? What was hard for you?

BEGUM: I didn’t find things that hard for me. I was hard for me because I didn’t know what to do by myself. I worried about my kids and if they would be okay at school by themselves. My husband would go to work and I felt like I couldn’t stay home by myself and felt scared. I would think that I won’t be able to stay by myself. My kids would leave (for school) and I didn’t know what to do. Your grandpa would say... that time there were no cellphones so we only had a phone in the house. Your grandpa would call and asked me if I was scared by myself and assured me not to be. He would tell me that.

MATIN: When you came as an immigrant here tell me a little bit about that.

BEGUM: Coming here as an immigrant I liked it. That time my kids were a little older so coming as an immigrant as fine. But I felt like leaving this country and going back to Bangladesh.

MATIN: When you became a citizen how did you feel?

BEGUM: I didn’t feel good, but I didn’t feel bad about it either. I am just living my life.

MATIN: You didn’t feel anything different?

BEGUM: I didn’t feel anything different. The way I came I feel like I am still the same. I associate with all Bengali people so I just feel the same. Even when I associate with everyone, I still feel like we are following Bangladeshi culture, that’s why I like it.

MATIN: When you used to go to school in Bangladesh did you learn about Bangladesh’s history? Or when Britain still had control over the Bengal region?

BEGUM: That time they didn’t teach us a lot. The teachers didn’t go over that much. In our village there used to teachers there that would tell us about it, but I don’t remember because I was a kid and didn’t understand it.

MATIN: What do you remember them telling you?

BEGUM: I don’t really remember much from that time since I got married young. I remember the teachers and the imams telling us if we got an education that it will be good for us. If we got an education, you can be anything, if you got an education... they used to tell us now girls get an education and it will be good for us and we can work. You can teach your children. You can’t fool around in order to get your education. We have to study Arabic and Bangla and if we did everything, we would enjoy it- the teachers to say this to us.

MATIN: When the war occurred in Bangladesh in 1971 do you remember anything?

BEGUM: In 1971 I remember, but not a lot.

MATIN: What do you remember though about the 1971 war in Bangladesh?

BEGUM: Everyone used to say that there is a war, and the freedom fighters are going to come. Everyone used to say to keep crushed peppers ready that we can fend off anyone who comes onto the island. We heard that once the freedom fighters came here, they would ruin a women’s reputation and say bad things to women. We also heard that they would take away girls. My dadi (paternal grandma) used to tell us this. I used to get so scared when I heard these stories. But thank Allah that no one really came to Sandwip. I heard the farthest they came was by the river. We didn’t see any of this thank Allah.

MATIN: Who would tell you guys about the war? How would you find out what’s happening in the war?

BEGUM: That time we had radios no TVs so everyone used to listen to the radios. We heard in the radio the BBC news would say the areas that the war was taking place and what happened there and what kinds of things would be done to women. They would say those. When my father used to come from abroad, he would listen to the radio and tell us the bad things that were happening especially to women. The freedom fighters would destroy women’s houses and take them. They would tie the parents up and kidnap the girls some would just take the fathers. My father used to tell these kinds of things. My dad was carefully involved in what was happening during the war. He would listen to the news and tell us.

MATIN: What is your opinion about the war?

BEGUM: I don’t know a lot.

MATIN: Did they teach you this in school?

BEGUM: I stopped going to school then. My father didn’t let us go to school then. Like I said, my father used to say that girls shouldn’t be that educated. My father didn’t let us go to school but would tell us stories about the war. If my dadi (paternal grandma) would ask to let us go to school, my father would tell he wasn’t going to let his daughters study anymore. He would tell her what do you know? My dadi would say if girls don’t get an education how are they going to survive in this world. My father wouldn’t like it.
MATIN: Do you know anyone who left East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and took refuge in India during the civil war?
BEGUM: No, I didn’t know anyone like that. I had cousin that left for India, but I wasn’t old enough to understand. My cousin came back years later and many of my relatives were captured and then came back, but I didn’t know women though.
MATIN: Do you know anyone who fought in the war?
BEGUM: No, I didn’t really know anyone.

MATIN: Did any of your relative fight in the war?

BEGUM: No, no one in my family fought in the war. Wait… I did have a brother-in-law that was part of the war. When the freedom fighters were looking for him, he hid in my in-laws house. Other than him there was no one else in my family that fought in the war. He used to work in the Pakistani army that’s why the freedom fighters were looking for him.

MATIN: In 1974 when there was a famine in Bangladesh, like the floods, and people didn’t have enough food to eat (in 1974) what was it like for you?

BEGUM: We were... just like how it happens in India... there wasn’t any food, there wasn’t anything to give to children. Your grandpa would go to the stores and buy food and would tell me to make sure there was food to eat. We would have to buy a lot of things and keep at home. Until the stores would open up again praise to Allah, we were able to survive with what we had left. He would tell me from abroad as well to make sure food was ready for the kids and my didn’t have to suffer. Thank Allah we didn’t have a lot of difficulties, we survived and the kids were okay.

MATIN: Where did you get the food from?

BEGUM: The food... we had store downstairs of our house. I would go over there and get a lot of groceries and if told my brother-in-law to get me some things he would get it for us. My kids were small that time so they couldn’t go, my brother-in-law would go and sometimes that workers at the store would bring it for us at home, I didn’t go out much that time. I didn’t shop all the time then and now I don’t either.

MATIN: Until the point you were at school, did you learn about New York or American history?
BEGUM: No, my dad used to work in a ship so he used to tell us about American history. He used to tell us in America (immigrants) struggle and food was hard to get. Sometimes how Muslims got in trouble or got jailed for something. I just used to hear these from my father.

MATIN: Where did your dad hear these from?

BEGUM: My father used to hear them from the ships and listen to BBC news so when he would visit Bangladesh, he used to tell us. My dadi was there too and my father sat with her and told these stories. He would say “mom there are bad things in America, why do people go to America? Why is America so greedy? I stay in the ships and I am doing good thank Allah. Sometimes people go to America and they were not treated well there.” My dadi asked him if he would go to America and he said no, but if its ever in his luck he may want to go. My dad came (to America) and stayed for fifteen years before he left. He left because he got older and I was here and I told him to stay because I was here and my father said he lived abroad most of his life and didn’t want to stay here anymore because he didn’t like it. My father went back to Bangladesh and took care of family and farmed. He passed away eight or nine years ago. My mom died from an accident.

MATIN: While you were in Bangladesh, did you hear about Bangladeshis immigrating to other countries other than America?

BEGUM: Sometimes I would hear, but I don’t really know. It wouldn’t stay in my mind because I wouldn’t think about that. Maybe if I thought about it. I would think we’re in Bangladesh and I’m going to raise my children here, why would I think about America. I didn’t even hope that we were going to come to America. I didn’t think I would come to America and bring my kids here. When your grandpa would tell us about it. I would say that I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to leave my mother-in-law.

My mother-in-law didn’t like it and she used to say if you take my grandchildren I’m not going to live. That’s why I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I loved my mother-in-law more than my own mother. I used always bring her food to the table, three-time warm rice and whatever she wanted to eat, to washing her clothes, I did everything myself and never had any of the maids do it. I used to think that I am the daughter-in-law and if I did everything for her, I would get blessings from Allah and mother-in-law would be happy as well. I am my mothers-in-law first daughter-in-law, her older son’s wife, to my in-laws I was on one end and her son was on another. That’s why after my wedding I have loved mother-in-law more. The way I took care of my mother-in-law I was never able to do that with my own mother. Until she passed away, I did everything for my mother-in-law. But when she passed away, I didn’t see her, I did a lot for her, but at the last moments I didn’t see my mother-in-law. That is something I will always regret. My mother-in-law had a stroke and lived for five days after and she called out for me and when I heard this, I felt really bad. I didn’t see my mother-in-law and my mother died in an accident and I didn’t see her either. I feel bad for my mother-in-law, I never upset her and kept her happy praise Allah. She used to pray for us. My father-in-law also loved me a lot, so did my mother-in-law, and sisters-in-laws. I stayed like this with my children and my children also respected and loved their grandparents. My in-laws loved us too and still today everyone in my in-laws house and all the relatives I have here praise to Allah everyone knows.
Even now we can’t forget about your grandfather (talking my biological grandpa recovering from covid) and how Allah miraculously brought him back and listened to everyone’s prayers. I still remember your grandparents all the time. I used to go to your grandparents house a lot. We used to visit to see your mother. That is how everyone showed their love and appreciation towards me.
MATIN: Do you still reminisce about your life in Bangladesh?
BEGUM: I remember about my childhood and what my parents used to do. My dad used to live abroad and my seven siblings. My dadi (paternal grandma) used to take care of us and loved us very much. My dadi would talk about my dad and how she did not have anyone other than my dad. My dad went abroad when he was young, he only went to school until 6th or 7th grade. That’s why my dadi used to spend so much time with us and told us stories about my dad. She used to make us sit next to her and tell us how she sent our dad away at a young age so that you guys would have a good life. My dadi had one son and one daughter so she used to be very upset about not being able to see my father often. She used to cry for him and when he would send us letter, she would listen to this and cry more. I was a child so I didn’t used to understand why my dadi would do this. My dadi loved my father and us a lot.
MATIN: What is your favorite memory of Bangladesh or your life there? What do you miss about living in Bangladesh?
BEGUM: Memory… I miss living there. I miss seeing my siblings and my family. I want to go back and stay there with my siblings and all of my relatives. I don’t go out much here and my husband doesn’t drive anymore. I don’t like it here, so I wish to go back. I go back to desh I would like it there. I was born and raised there. My dad’s house, my in laws, all my relatives everything is there. This is why like Bangladesh; I want to go back. The truth is I can’t leave my grandchildren here and go back. I will miss them, but I miss Bangladesh too. What should I do? I can’t go.

MATIN: After coming here, how did you hear about events that happened in Bangladesh?

BEGUM: That time we had a telephone and letters. From letters I would hear about everything. In town, in our house in Sandwip we had a phone and in Chittagong we had a phone as well and that is how I would find out things happening in Bangladesh. What was happening with everyone, how people were doing, my siblings and parents. My dadi would say in letters that I haven’t seen you guys and left us to go to America- she used to say those in the letters. Through the letter we found about any news.

MATIN: Do you still have these letters?

BEGUM: No, after all these years I don’t have these letters. Now a days you find out everything through Facebook.

MATIN: You didn’t keep those letters?

BEGUM: No, actually while we still lived in Brooklyn your grandpa had those letters, but after we left Brooklyn and changed houses, we throughout all the old letters. When your grandpa used to work in the ships those, we only have those passports.

MATIN: Do you have any regrets about coming to America and leaving Bangladesh?

BEGUM: No, I don’t.

MATIN: What do you feel most proud about?

BEGUM: I am not proud of anything. I was born and one day I will have to die. I am not proud. Allah gave me children, wealth and everything. So, I am not proud Allah gave me everything. I think about this... we were born a one day we will have to die. If I am just able to do everything Allah wants us to. I don’t care about money, I bought my kids to this country, and if my grandchildren can also follow the right path of our religion, that is something that I was think about. I am not proudly person praise Allah.

MATIN: If you could go back to Bangladesh for one day then what would you do?

BEGUM: When I go back to Bangladesh, I would like to go see my brother and see everyone. Everyone will come over and take care of me and the first two to four days cook for me. I wouldn’t have to do anything. I go back after so long everyone and my brothers takes care of everything. There are maids so they also do things for me. I wouldn’t have to worry about things.

Collection: Subat Matin Oral History Interviews
Donor: Subat Matin
Item History: 2023-04-07 (created); 2023-04-07 (modified)

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