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Farida Matin Oral History Interview

Oral history interview with Farida Matin on August 8th, 2022, conducted by Subat Matin. Farida Matin was born in Sandwip, Bangladesh, but grew up in the city of Chittagong. She spent a lot of time in Sandwip visiting her family whenever she had off from school. Farida first immigrated to the United States in 1993 and lived with her father and uncles in a small apartment in Brooklyn. She stayed home most of the time and did not know how to speak much English. One of the difficult parts of being an immigrant was as a wife and a first-time mother Farida recalls the life she never expected to endure. Growing up she believed that her mother and sisters would be by her side on two of the most important days of her life: her wedding day and the birth of her first child. However, immigrating to the United States before her mother and sisters was not something that she imagined. Farida recalls the difficulties of being an immigrant woman and the challenges she faced throughout her journey. As a Bangladeshi woman, her story is one of the many that shows how loneliness and isolation immigrating to a new country can affect someone. Farida now resides in Manassas, Virginia with her husband and three daughters.

Date: August 8, 2022
Type: Oral History
Creator: Subat Matin
Location: Manassas, VA

Date: August 8th, 2022

Interviewee: Farida Matin

Interviewer: Subat Matin

Location: Manassas, Virginia

MATIN: Today is August 8th, 2022, tell me your life story.

FARIDA: My name is Farida Matin. I was born on 1976 in a small island in Bangladesh called Sandwip. When I was little... until second grade I was in Sandwip and then I moved to like the second largest city in Bangladesh, Chittagong, we moved to Chittagong. My dad I was always abroad when we were little, we missed our dad a lot. My dad wasn’t with us he was always abroad. At first, he was on a ship, he worked at a foreign ship and then he was in Dubai. After I was born, he was in Dubai. I have three sisters, the three of us are older and then I have two brothers.

In school I was there until second grade and then I came to Chittagong. From Chittagong it was third grade, elementary school, middle school, college, everything was there in Chittagong. My two brothers are younger. I’ll say a small story about my birth, in our Bangladesh I’ll still say this now in Bangladeshi culture everyone likes boys better even though you have daughters you need a boy. That was the mentality of Bangladeshi people. I am the third number daughter, in my family I am the third number daughter and I grew up in a joint family so my grandma would live with us and so did a lot of other people. My grandma when before I was born really wanted a boy and when she found out I was a girl she was upset. My grandma didn’t take care of my mother or me she was really upset. She was saying things like why it wasn’t a boy this time, but my dad always supported me and loved me a lot. My dad told my grandma I had a daughter why do you have a problem slowly everything got better Alhamdulillah. But after me I have two younger brothers but the one immediately after me has down syndrome, we found out he was special needs after we came here, but in Bangladesh we didn’t know that. We found out later he was special needs. A lot of people say and even doctors said this that maybe my mom was under too much stress when she was pregnant because she didn’t know if she was going to have a daughter again or not. She was stressed about having a girl again and maybe that’s why my brother is like this. But my grandma showed the most affection to my brother and loved him the most. Even before she died in 1991...1993, she held onto my father’s hand and told him to take care of this grandson the most, she told him to take special care of her grandson. She loved him the most.

When I was little in school, the elementary school that I went to in our country... I mean I went to a very small elementary school, it was my neighborhood elementary school, it wasn’t that expensive, but we went there. But there wasn’t any bus system or anything in Bangladesh so all of us girls from the neighborhood in the morning would get ready and call each other in the morning by going to their houses and all of us friends would go to school together. We walked, there was no car or rickshaw nothing like that, we walked to school. I went to elementary school and high school, middle school... high school that way. In Bangladesh middle school and high school are together from sixth to tenth grade is counted as high school in Bangladesh. Eleventh and twelfth grade is counted as a two year college in Bangladesh. So up until tenth grade that is how we finished school. Eleventh and twelfth grade, my college was really far from our house, us two sisters. My middle sister is another funny story. My middle sister is two years older, but she was afraid of everything and didn’t want to do anything by herself when we moved from Sandwip to Chittagong she was two years older than me, but still she admitted to the same grade as me that’s why in school, college we were together until she got married. So, in college us two sisters were together and because our college was far away, we were able to take the rickshaw in Bangladesh. From college it took about an hour, but still in Bangladesh I miss the rickshaw journey. Then in Bangladesh when I finished twelfth grade, I came to America in 1993. I came to America through my dad. My dad came in 86’ then when he became an immigrant he applied for us, but my mom didn’t come with us since my grandma was alive my mom had to take care of my grandma my little... only us two sisters came, my older sister that was always with me, we also came to America together in 1993.

And food... in Bangladesh the food... in Bangladeshi culture rice was a lot, ate a lot of rice and fish. In our country people say “fish and rice is Bengali” that means fish and rice are Bangladeshi peoples favorite food. Now still, rice is my favorite and my daughters joke with me that mom’s favorite food is rice. In Bangladesh in my childhood... In Bangladesh like here there is not that I feel here is the commercial life that is not in Bangladesh. We went to school and in the evening all the girls from the neighborhood would come and played, running and playing. Everyone is attached to one another in Bangladesh. For example, if anything happened in my friend’s house, we are able to quickly go there, if in my house we cooked something good my neighbors would come and eat with us, we grew up in a friendly environment, everyone is together, no matter what we did everyone was together. After coming here, I miss that a lot and the scenario is different. Here everyone is busy with themselves even if I wanted there is no time for me to go talk to my neighbor, that is not possible for us. What I miss from when I was younger is my dad, I missed him a lot since my dad abroad. My mom was a single woman in Bangladesh raised us three daughters and two sons. She was always a housewife, but she struggled a lot with us. Since we didn’t have any male guardian in Bangladesh there was a lot of outsiders were involved in our family always especially the far away relatives, they told we couldn’t do this or that and we had to do a lot. My mom sometimes to get really upset and we also would get upset sometimes, but we couldn’t do anything since my dad wasn’t there with us, we had to face these things because in Bangladesh it’s always a male dominated family, it’s always men who dominate the family that’s why.

So, I came here and now... oh I got married here when I first came here in 93’ I came as a student, but after coming here I couldn’t study. After coming from Bangladesh in 93’ I first stayed for four months and after four months... let me say a little about the interview part. When I went to immigration for the interview, us two sisters together again my scared sister, always scared. But here in immigration there is a lot of questions and other things that we faced and came here. My sister wouldn’t say anything and I had to say everything, she was really scared. Finally, when us two sisters came together, we came with one of my dad’s friends. Another things about that when we first came from Bangladesh there is time difference of 24 hours almost, summer time is almost 24 hours, I came to America in the summer. Our flight... my dad calculated that we were going to come here a day later, but any how we came to America a day earlier and we came to the airport and was just sitting there because no one was there, it was just us two sisters and my dad’s friend, we came with his friend. Now to come receive us no one came and us two now I’m also scared we came to a country like America, but we don’t see anyone, we don’t see our dad. My uncle was with my dad, but we don’t see anyone. That time cell phone was not available and I remember that uncle took quarters and from the calling [booth] phoned my dad. My dad said you guys were supposed to come tomorrow morning and we said no we already came here. So, we sat in the airport for hours almost two hours, we got out of immigration and was sitting around with our luggage’s for two hours and finally my dad came to pick us up. After coming in 93’ I stayed four months and didn’t stay because in Bangladesh I was a student. There was a two year permission system that time where they gave for students and with that I returned to Bangladesh. In the end of 95’ when I finished college right at the final I had to come again since my permission was up then I came again with my sister. By then my sister had already gotten married and had a little baby and with the baby we came for the first time. After coming I didn’t stay for long, two weeks or four weeks I think four weeks then I left again because in Bangladesh I had my final exams.

Then in 96’ my marriage was set, in Bangladesh it’s mostly arranged marriage, I also had an arranged marriage, my husband lived here and my dad saw him and set everything up. Then in 96’ August 9th or 10th I came again for my wedding, I came here and got married. On 96’ August 18th I got married and what I missed the most was that no one was here with me. Only my dad and a few uncles were there with me. When I got married my sisters, my mom especially my mom I missed them the most. In our country weddings are really nice and gorgeous way. When I got married here in our community there weren’t a lot of weddings here so a lot of the things that we do in our culture we didn’t have those facilities and I was the youngest of my sisters and loved by everyone and everyone used to tell me that in your wedding we are going to have the most fun and there was a dream of that, but I didn’t have that in my wedding plus I missed my mom and sisters, no one was here. I started my married life here by myself only my dad was here, but he lived as a bachelor in an apartment. Another thing that I faced after coming here in Bangladesh we lived luxuriously, living and food we didn’t face any issues, but after coming here my dad lives in a small home [apartment] with some other people like bachelor friends, my uncle lived with him. After seeing their life, I was very surprised.

After getting married I was even more surprised my husband got a small home [apartment], but I had to share it with another family and my bedroom was very small and seeing all of that I was shocked because in Bangladesh I didn’t feel any of that and in Bangladesh we had a big house and house maids, my own bedroom, leaving behind all of the things that I had and came here for a different life that was hard for me to get used to and I was mentality depressed about for a long time. But slowly I got better with the environment and slow got better. In 96’ I got married and in 98’ I had my first baby. My first baby was a daughter. For that pregnancy I struggled a lot because during pregnancy mothers and sisters take care of us a lot and for me, I didn’t have that. I didn’t have anything, I had to cook by myself and I couldn’t cook or eat and just sat there. I faced the American life, my husband worked an odd job he didn’t have his green card yet and wasn’t legal. So, when I used to get to get sick my husband... I remember one day when he was going to work, I was throwing up so much I became almost senseless. My husband called his manager at work and said that my wife is really sick and I can’t come to work today. Then from that side his manager said your wife is an adult and she knows how to take care of herself, you can’t take off for that because after coming here I saw that here people’s lives are very hard and if you don’t go to work the next day you could lose it. In our country this never happens. It’s hard finding a job but once you have one you can’t lose it like that. So, my husband had to leave me in that condition. I was very upset because of these kinds of things.

Then my daughter was born and then we brought her home and that was the day I missed my mom the most. After I came home from the hospital there was no one there to hold my child I the house. No one was there and there was no food at home either since my husband was in the hospital with me for two days so no one was at home to cook or to make some food for me. My dad lived in Brooklyn and I lived in Queens, Jamaica. My dad told me he was going to come in the evening to see me and the baby. I didn’t even have time to feed by baby. I put her on the bed and quickly went to cook. I cooked and did everything. After that I got really sick and my body hurt. At that moment I missed my mom so much I can’t explain how much I missed her. My child also missed a lot of things as baby. I couldn’t always giver her my attention and I didn’t know how to take care of a baby either since I never did that in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh around this time your mom and other relatives would do everything for you, you didn’t have to do anything by yourself. I had to do everything here by myself no one was there to help. I didn’t know how to raise my baby or do anything. How do I give the baby a shower- I didn’t even know that. I couldn’t even call and talk to my mom because phone calls were expensive that time. We couldn’t call from home because international calls were really expensive. I remember we used to go to different calling booths and call that way. This was life in America.

Then when my daughter was two years old there was another problem. She had a kidney disease. But by then my mom was finally in America. When my older daughter was six... eight months my mom and brothers came as an immigrant. Then Mashallah I had support from my family, but me as a mother struggled a lot with my daughter. When she was two and had her kidney disease, taking her to the doctors’ appointments I would have to take all these buses and trains by myself because my husband would never get days off so I had to do everything by myself. The weekends there was no doctors and those were the only days he was off from work. I didn’t get an education in this country so speaking English with the doctors was very difficult for me. But I learned a lot by going. My husband always said that if you go by yourself, you will learn everything. I actually did learn a lot of things. I struggled a lot with my daughter for the next two to three years. This was the toughest part of my life in America.

Alhamdulillah now I’m good, my daughter is good, I had another two daughters, I have three daughters. I had two daughters... one daughter was born in New York... I was in New York for 16 or 17 years and while living in New York I never worked a job, I was always a housewife and took care of my daughters. When my husband got his green card, he always told me that he was going to go to college, he always had a dream of going to college since he came here with a student visa, but because he had family responsibilities, he had to take care of his family in desh and we were here so he couldn’t continue college and he didn’t have a green card which going to college was expensive for him. Later when he got his green card, he would always say that he wants to go to college and after finishing college he wanted to leave New York and didn’t want to live in New York, he said that he didn’t want to raise his kids in New York. Finally, when he finished college in, I think 2007 or 08’ when he finished college in 2009, we then moved to Virginia. After moving to Virginia, I had my third baby. I struggled then too because I had left my parents, my siblings and everyone to come here. My husband didn’t have a job for three months and financially we struggled. With everything we went through another difficulty for two to three years. We only had one car and after three months my husband got a job. So, while I was pregnant, I had to drop everyone off and pick them up. Then actually, I was mentally depressed and after leaving my parents and it felt like when I came to America and I had to start my life over again. The struggles faced in the beginning started again.

Alhamdulillah later in 2013 we bought a house in Virginia and after that was the first time I applied for a job, my youngest child was three years old and I never worked because of them, I wanted to go to college here I had a dream and thought I would be able to go to college, but I couldn’t. Later because of one aunty, who I will always remember helped me get my first job in life. I applied to work at a daycare in Virginia in 2013. I always had a dream that I would work with children in a school system, always a had a dream about that. After I started working in a daycare and did different courses and to me, I felt like I could improve my English then slowly I started applying to jobs in public schools in Prince William County, Virginia. I started applying and applied a lot, but never got an interview, nothing came. After I worked in the daycare for one and a half years, one day I applied for special ed. teachers assistant in a public school, I got an interview, did my interview and accepted the job Alhamdulillah. In 2014 I started working in this school at an elementary school in Virginia in Woodbridge as an autism teacher assistant like for 7 years, I worked with them. From last year I’ve been working as a kindergarten teachers assistant in Prince William County, Virginia. That’s the short life story of my life.

MATIN: When you lived in Bangladesh what did you know about American culture?

FARIDA: About American culture, my dad used to tell us and that’s how we always used to know about it. My dad came here in 86’ when he used to visit, he would tell us. Also, in our house we always had a TV so we used to watch English movies and shows. My dad would always bring us cards, what do they call it like the picture cards pictures of Manhattan and even I our house we had posters of Manhattan, Brooklyn bridge, all the bridges, my dad used to tell us all about them. He used to tell us about their culture that their very open minded, welcoming people, and help people. He used to tell us that America is an immigrant country where people from all countries are welcomed, whenever you guys go you will understand... you won’t feel... so we mostly found out from my dad, watch TV and saw websites [that were English] and found out bits about it.

MATIN: What was your opinion of America or Americans?

FARIDA: Right now, or before?

MATIN: Before.

FARIDA: Before opinion was what my dad would say positive things about. So, with a positive opinion I came to this country. When I went to the interview I still remember when I went to Dhaka embassy for the interview, we met with two American couples they were very friendly and before the interview when I was waiting in the waiting room then both of them to me and my sister explained everything to us. They said you guys are going, with who, and asked us different questions. So, we said we are going to our dad and our mom isn’t going with us then they told us not worry and the people there are good. They talked to us very nicely and that was another positive experience with Americans. After coming here Inshallah I saw everything that way. When I came to JFK airport, I didn’t see anything and everyone was friendly and behaved nicely with us. Even after I got married when I would go on different subways, New York City I used subways and buses, all the time it was good and found positive things, nothing was bad and I never saw racism as a Muslim I wear a hijab and never saw anything bad. Even through my daughter when I had to go to different hospitals and deal with doctors, even after I had my babies, I never saw anything bad, always had good behavior from them and everything was positive.

MATIN: What kinds of experiences did you have in New York?

FARIDA: Experience as I said, when I started my family, the financial crisis’s, my child being sick and later slowly what I felt as I said that everything you have to yourself. In our country I didn’t do that and even after eating, never had to wash our own dishes. After coming here everything from shopping, getting groceries, cooking, cleaning, you have to do everything by yourself. Plus, the financial crisis that I felt here which in Bangladesh I never did. These kinds of things were hard, but slowly I got used to it. Now Alhamdulillah I’m in a good position and mashallah I don’t have any complaints.

MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh did you hear about other Bangladeshis coming to America?

FARIDA: Yes, I heard. Even in our village, Sandwip, where I was born, there was a lot of people who lived in America. Most of them lived in New York and they would come to Bangladesh to visit and would come to our house. I know people who came as immigrants, friends, community people, relatives, a lot of our people were in America, most of them lived in New York.

MATIN: Did you ever experience any discrimination?

FARIDA: Not until 9/11. Until 9/11 as I said I saw in America I didn’t see any misbehaviors or bad things, but after 9/11 one or two things happened that I was shocked about that. One was when I was on the public bus, I had my middle child because we went to doctor and when we were coming back, she was on the car seat and she was maybe one month or two months, September, sorry she wasn’t one month maybe one year, I think. Since it was 9/11, I was pregnant that time and she was born later. I was coming back from her on the bus and she was in the car seat and there was no seats on the bus, a lot of men and women sitting down, usually I’m talking about before scenario whenever I got on the bus or train if people saw a woman or a child someone would give up their seats, I saw that before. But after September 11th it was the first time, I felt... the whole bus ride I was struggling to stand with my child and no one gave up their seats or anything, that thing... and it also felt like people were looking at me weirdly since I have the hijab on and know that I’m Muslim. That is something I faced.

Then after September 11th when all Muslims who did not have papers they had to register and my husband had to register as Muslim, as RM. I went with him to federal plaza and I saw that day how there were so many people. Everyone was standing in line and I saw others had handcuffs on, that day I was very scared. My husband didn’t do anything illegal in this country and he also legally to this country with a student visa and always did everything legally, but still after September 11th he had to register as a Muslim. Those two discrimination was shocking.

MATIN: What do you like about New York?

FARIDA: I like New York because there is a lot of community people there. All kinds of people are there and since the first time I came I lived in New York I always have some kind of feelings [affection] for New York. My dad lives there and mostly all of mt family is there. In Bangladesh now I don’t really have anyone, everyone is in New York. That’s why in New York, even though living there was... [difficult] still to me it wasn’t bad. Still in New York I like those things and the food there are different cultural foods are found in New York and our holiday and the cultural events I like it in New York because there is more people there, everything for our culture is more available, that’s why I like New York.

MATIN: When you first came to America how often did you go back to Bangladesh to visit your family?

FARIDA: I couldn’t go a lot because the journey to Bangladesh is very long and far also the plane fare is a lot and expensive. After I got married for years my husband didn’t have his green card so that’s why we didn’t go for a while, but after I got married, I went by myself two or three times, two years apart or three years apart. After my husband got his green card, we went another three times with my kids, but the last ten years I haven’t been to Bangladesh because of the expense, it’s too much expensive with the whole family.

MATIN: When you first came to America how did you keep in contact with your family in Bangladesh?

FARIDA: Over the phone most of the time. I would talk on the phone. The beginning time it was really expensive so once a week I would go to the calling center and after the calling center started the cards so I would call with the cards. But now it’s very easy to communicate, everyone has internet even in Bangladesh the internet is available. Phone is also cheap now, video call and messenger and with the phone that’s how we communicate now with people in Bangladesh.

MATIN: Do you consider America or Bangladesh your home?

FARIDA: Obviously since I was born in Bangladesh, Bangladesh is my home, but I am a citizen here and my children are all born here and wherever my children are I am also there. Which is why I will say that America is now my home.

MATIN: In Bangladeshi culture a women is her father’s daughter, a husbands wife and a son’s mother, her identity... her own identity then becomes second importance, did you ever feel that? Do you still feel that?

FARIDA: I did feel that and I still do feel that way. As a Muslim I think... after marriage we don’t need to change our name, but in Bangladesh no one really has a tradition where your last name needs to be your fathers, but your identity is that you are so and so’s daughter. Always daughters are referred to as someone else’s identity, that is true and I feel that actually. After coming here, I felt it more because after I got married at first, I didn’t change my name, my name was Farida Yasmine, but after coming here when I went to different offices or even to the doctors when I had to fill out something my name was Farida Yasmine and they would ask me if I was married, I would sign that I was married, but they would still ask me why my last name wasn’t the same as my husbands. They used to ask me here, everything was totally different here, but in Bangladesh that is not mandatory, even though we introduced under our fathers names it still wasn’t mandatory, but after here they would question why I didn’t take my husband’s name. This was very shocking to me because a country like America is still making a woman take a different identity and be introduced that way. Then after I became a citizen then I changed my name to Farida Matin and took on my husband’s name, but I didn’t do that because I wanted to, but I still feel that a woman should be introduced by her own identity.

MATIN: When you lived in New York could women work outside of the household?

FARIDA: Yes, when I came in 93’ in our community I didn’t see a lot of women working, that time the living cost what I think if the husband worked, they would be able to survive, but now this time, even in my family no women worked, but now my two sisters work and I work. Now most of the women in New York have to work because surviving is tough and New York’s expense is really, really high. When I was there from 93’ until 2009 most of the women would stay home and take care of the kids and the household, but now women mostly work.

MATIN: How do you think opportunities for women in Bangladesh have changed over your life time?

FARIDA: Yes, it changed a lot now. When I lived in Bangladesh, I was in Bangladesh I didn’t see my married life since everything was here, but when I was there as a student from what I saw a lot has changed. Bangladeshi women are working a lot and outside, women are going by themselves everywhere, going to tours, hanging out with guy friends. But during our time that wasn’t the scenario even until high school I went to a girls school all the time. Most of the girls in Bangladesh until high school it was all girls schools parents wouldn’t let them. But now I see that there is a lot of change, women have a job, traveling by themselves, male friends, their opportunities have increased and because of the internet the whole world is open in front of them and because of that a lot of things have changed.

MATIN: How did women’s opportunities in the U.S. change?

FARIDA: In the U.S.?

MATIN: *head nodded yes*

FARIDA: Yes, in the U.S. Bengali women life has changed a lot. We... I would say in my community we were the first generation I’m going to say from my Sandwip community I don’t know about the other communities. We were the first generation, let’s my dad’s friends they came and then us so we were the first generation. That time here we didn’t go to school or college and we never had a job. We always followed the Bangladeshi traditional culture of being a housewife, take care of the kids, but now I see whoever comes even the people who come as new immigrants, they come as students and go get their education and all the women are working. So, the opportunity is more because the generation now there are a lot of sons and daughters that are working at good positions, went to college, have a masters degree, doctors, engineers, there are a lot of opportunities for women in Bangladesh because of their education and then they continued their education here.

MATIN: How did the roles for men change in Bangladesh? Did men’s role change or not in the U.S.?

FARIDA: For men I would say in Bangladesh, maybe the mentality changed a little bit, they are little more open minded, back then the free mixing that is happening now, back then if a girl talked to a boy, then the girl isn’t good that mentality changed for men, I’m talking about Bangladesh. Then, when the girls go out to work that mentality also changed, dad’s and husbands are letting girls go to work. But one thing that I still think hasn’t changed which is that the girls are helping their families by working, dads, husbands, financially, but after coming home that girl still has to fulfill that role as a wife... a girl still has to 100% come home and do her role, when they come, they don’t get that help from men. A girl come home from a full day of work and is tired, but after coming home she still has to has to 100% play her role [traditional roles] so that didn’t change.

I would say in America the new generation of men that have an education from here and got married they I saw Mashallah have changed. The way the wife is helping them from outside they also come home and help their wife and are very understanding I would say back then during our time I saw my dad and others they were very dominated, but now that changed, I think.

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

FARIDA: Yes, a lot changed. When I first came as I said I was 100% a housewife I didn’t do anything. My husband [for him] I had to do everything, my kids and everything. Now at this moment I am working outside and at home I still have to do everything, but a little bit not that much, it changed a little bit.

MATIN: What kinds of Bangladeshi traditions and customs did you keep in your family?

FARIDA: Bangladeshi... I can say another thing about Bangladesh since it’s about culture. In Bangladesh is it 100% Muslim country, but in Bangladesh the British ruled for years and Bangladesh’s neighbor country Bharat (India) has a lot of influence on Bangladesh. That’s why in our Bangladesh religion and culture are both combined. So, as a Muslim I try to for my kids that they are doing the five daily prayers, wearing hijab, those things I try to maintain here for my kids and for myself personally. And culturally like Bangladesh’s food, clothes, our dress up isn’t like here so open, those kinds of things. Then, another thing that I think is very important which I always tell my kids is the family get together. In this country the families they always think about themselves, but us Bangladeshis we always want... any good thing we eat, we want to do it together with our family. I try to teach that to my kids and maintain it myself that the family attachment that is something that should stay and I try to teach my kids that all the time.

MATIN: What do your children and family believe about Bangladeshi culture?

FARIDA: They like Bangladesh. My kids one of their plus point is that they like Bangladesh, which since they were younger, when we lived in New York my parents lived right next to me and they grew up in a [family] gathering, even now they have a lot of feelings for their grandparents, cousins, I don’t know what they’re going to do for their own kids, but still, they and my sisters children are all very attached. That is something I think... I don’t know in the future how far they can take that, but they are maintaining that and I am happy.

MATIN: When you first came to America where did you find halal/Bengali foods from?

FARIDA: When I first came in 93’... from 96’ I have a continued journey... from 93’ I just lived like a tourist. It was tough finding halal foods, I remember I ate so much McDonalds, burgers from Burger King, but now... that time we couldn’t find it. We only found chicken that was halal, there was a farm in Brooklyn, it wasn’t in a lot of places, very faraway places we would have to bring it from, but in Brooklyn there was one next to my dad’s house and we bought halal from there. There was Bangladeshi grocery stores and we would collect halal foods from there.

MATIN: What do you like about Bangladeshi culture?

FARIDA: Like I said Bangladeshi food, Bangladeshi clothing and the family get togethers, our holidays and how we do that all of our family together, those are the things that I like about Bangladesh.

MATIN: Do you think Islam influences Bangladeshi culture?

FARIDA: Islam actually with Bangladeshi culture there is a lot of things that Islam doesn’t support. For example, like when we lived in Bangladesh, we would celebrate Bangla New Year and had fairs for that, birthdays, there was a lot of celebrations. In weddings we have a ceremony called gaye holud (henna night or literal translation putting turmeric on body), there are a lot of things in weddings that we did that sis not supported by Islam. I don’t think Bangladesh’s culture supports Islam.

MATIN: Do you see or think that there are problems with Bangladeshi culture?

FARIDA: The problem I would say if I thought about it as a Muslim then there are problems, but as a Bengali then there are no problems, yes, I love Bangladesh and that is the culture of our country in that sense it’s fine, but when I think about it as a Muslim Bengali think of course there are issues.

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

FARIDA: The difference? Just Bangladeshi... what should I say... just Bangladeshi yes as someone living in this country my dress up, my work ethic, I am representing Bangladesh here. For example, when I’m working everyone knows I’m from Bangladesh so when they see me, the positive things that I have about myself those are the things that I try to show the most so that they have a good impression about my country. And American Bangladeshi I would say that Americans have a lot of good side that I always try to catch, they... in Bangladesh I saw a lot of people who lied and were dishonest, but after I came here, I didn’t see that in people here. People here are honest and lying the kids and the people don’t know what that is. As a Bangladeshi American when I see those things, I try to adapt those things for myself and I feel proud that I could take the good things from them.

MATIN: How do your children and family see their identity?

FARIDA: My children they always say their American, but the rest of my family we think that we are like Bangladeshi American. We represent both Bangladesh and America.

MATIN: Where did you meet other Bangladeshi people when you first immigrated here?

FARIDA: When I first immigrated here, I came to Brooklyn. In Brooklyn they have lots of Bangladeshi people especially my community from my village, my place lots of people are there so every time you go you can find Bangladeshi people. There was no problems when I first came. But I used to hear from my dad, when my dad came it was very tough for them to find people, to speak a little Bangla, having Bengali food especially being able to speak in Bangla they really wanted to do that, but couldn’t find anyone. But now there are a lot of Bangladeshis after I came, I never felt there wasn’t enough Bangladeshis especially in Brooklyn. There was so many Bangladeshi grocery stores, walking on the streets there were Bengali people and I would talk to them. I never felt there wasn’t enough Bangladeshi people were always available.

MATIN: What is the Bangladeshi community like in Brooklyn, New York?

FARIDA: Uh now... before Bangladeshi people they used to come together through, what do you call it...

MATIN: Organizations?

FARIDA: Organizations... they have organizations whenever a Bengali family are in trouble, they help them a lot. If anyone passes away here these organizations takes care of that and for children there are Bengali owned schools to teach Bangla, Islamic... mosques, Bangladeshi mosques where children are practicing Islam and learning the Quran, there is a lot of things available for Bangladeshis even the Bangladeshi community does a lot for the community.

MATIN: What are some struggles or challenges Bangladeshis face in Brooklyn, New York?

FARIDA: Uh now the Bangladeshi community is strong and they are doing good. But before they felt a lot like in Brooklyn the areas that Bangladeshis were first in there were Spanish and other groups of people so with them it was tough because sometimes, they would get beaten by [the Spanish community] and would hijack [steal] things from them. When we first came in 93’ and 96’ my dad would say when it gets late at night don’t go to this area or walk there, walk on this side and not the other because it’s safer. This side the Bengalis have a stronger community, but the other side wasn’t good. So, they suffered and I heard from a lot of Bangladeshis got beaten or died, people would get hit because they knew that most Bangladeshis were illegal and only worked jobs that paid them in cash so people used to know that and would take [steal] money from them. They were tortured a lot back then, but now the scenario is different, now huge Bangladeshi community, if anyone tried to do anything against the Bangladeshi community now, they think and are scared to do anything, now that scenario isn’t there.

MATIN: When you were in Bangladesh were you told of any stories when Britain still had control over the Bengal region?

FARIDA: Yes, I heard from my nani (maternal grandma) and dadis (paternal grandma), I wasn’t born then so I didn’t see that. I read about it in school when we were studying history, I read how much they tortured, there were good people, but they tortured a lot. In our history book we used to read that Bangladeshi people used to make a sari called Muslin silk, they used to make a silk which only Bangladeshi industry workers could make, it was special, but the British they tortured them so much before they left and lost Bangladesh and had to leave, they cut off the hands of those people, we read this in history. During the British rule my parents weren’t born yet, I would hear stories from my dadi, my dada (paternal grandpa) died young, but my nana (maternal grandpa) would say some things. My nana saw some of the things from the British rule. But they were tortured so much they didn’t want to stay to in the villages so my nana left for Burma, somehow on a ship he left for Burma. They would torcher the young boys, would take them and beat them up, would cut off their hands, make them work... and they were taxed in everything, they always had to pay taxes, they were tortured a lot of Bangladeshis.

MATIN: Were you told of any stories about the Partition?

FARIDA: The Bangladesh and Pakistan?

MATIN: In 1947 when there was a Partition...

FARIDA: In 1947...

MATIN: When India and Pakistan got separated and Bangladesh was also separated...

FARIDA: I don’t know anything about that.

MATIN: Do you know how things were like when Bangladesh was East Pakistan and under West Pakistan’s control?
FARIDA: That time I wasn’t born yet, but I heard a lot of stories about that and that was a lot in our school history. When Bangladesh was under Pakistan, the Pakistanis tortured a lot of Bangladeshis, they even wanted the Bangladeshis to speak in Urdu and not in Bangla. But in big job Bengalis would never get a chance, even if they were educated still everything had to ne under Pakistan. Later one time, the Bangladeshi students especially Dhaka University students would protest that, first it was for their language, in that a lot of students were killed by Pakistanis. Then in Bangladesh the leader, the political leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman... that fight started for language and then decided that Bangladesh wants to be separated from Pakistan. Then under the political leader and Bangladesh... the major general of Bangladesh at the time Ziaur Rahman he first declared war against Pakistan from 1971 March 25th was the first day the war started for nine and half months the war happened in Bangladesh.

I wasn’t born, but my mom got married then and my mom used to tell us she was pregnant with my older sister, my dad wasn’t there he went to the ship, at the time they would take young boys and kill them, young men couldn’t stay in the houses and would hide, my mom told us. When there was bombs the whole house would shake. My mom left for the village to my nanu’s house, my dad went away to the ship, my mom is pregnant, and in our surrounding houses the boys were freedom fighters and were going to fight against Pakistan. I heard these things about history, but never saw it. Women would get raped... we heard... we read in books almost three million people died during the war. A lot of people... a lot of women were raped, most of the Hindus left for India. They tortured the Hindus the most, the Pakistanis, they tortured the Hindus a lot. The Bengalis that worked in higher [job] posts, students, they were all killed. Those who joined the freedom fighters their families were torched by the Pakistanis. In the village side it was kind of safe because the sides they couldn’t go to because the roads and communication wasn’t that developed at the time. Mostly the city people suffered the most and to the villages that they could go by ship or trucks they tortured a lot there. In our Sandwip the Pakistanis I heard from my mom, they only came to the town in Sandwip not to the whole village and they didn’t attack. But the freedom fighters... the “razakars” around our village my mom used to show when we got older who fought in the war, they were distant uncles. But those who were razakars were tortured in their [the uncles] houses. I heard those stories.

MATIN: Do you know anyone who left Bangladesh and took refuge in India during the war? Or anyone who fought in the war?

FARIDA: Went to India I didn’t hear about that because were Muslim, most of the Muslims didn’t go to India. But the Hindus went that’s what we heard. But in any of my relatives I didn’t hear and my mom never told us if any of the villagers went, as I said in their village, they didn’t come to torcher them, the Pakistanis. But the freedom fighters that I was talking about I saw them after I got older. My mom used to show us from my anus house... the villages houses are like there one house here and the neighbors houses are around each other like a circle, in one house there are six or seven families living there in those families a few uncles there fought in the war against Pakistan. I saw them when I got older.

MATIN: What do you know about the famine that occurred in Bangladesh in 1974? The durbhikho (famine) that happened in Bangladesh.

FARIDA: Oh, when the durbhikho (famine) happened that time I wasn’t born, but I heard from my mom... we thank Allah because my dad was in a ship we were fine financially, living and eating we never struggled with that. My mom would us the surrounding neighbors, poor people, would come to the yard in our house and sit there for you know what? When rice was cooked, the rice water that is there, they would sit around for the water. My mom would feel bad for them and my mom didn’t personally have extra to give so the poor children that used to sit around when they would give the liquid of the rice my mom would give handful of rice as well and put a little salt on it. People struggled a lot in the famine. I saw in the different movies and even now I still get scared. People’s dead bodies would lie around on the grass, near ditches, because of the lack of food they became like a skeleton I saw in the movies. Hear from your dad, your dad would be able to tell you better about this because he lived in Dhaka. In Dhaka people struggled the most, the government would give rations, they would give a card and depending on how many people you have in your family that is how you could get food, it was very limited and they get little amounts of food. Then my mom told us when they lived in the villages from America, the helicopters and the planes would go and drop food bags. Since my mom was financially doing better they would get it, but those who were poor they would go to the government schools, stand in the lines. My mom’s aunts they would go get the food. What we would do is go get the foods from their houses because they used to give the American cookies and those were our favorite. They struggled a lot during the famine. This was a bad part in Bangladesh’s history after the war this famine a lot of people died.

MATIN: Do you remember what you were taught about Bangladesh’s history in school?

FARIDA: Like what I said right now all of that was what we read in history. The war, the famine and then there was a flood in Bangladesh, a big flood. During that flood... it happened after I was born, but we read that in books. We learned about the history that way as what I said.

MATIN: Do you know Bangladeshis that would go to the Middle East to work and look for jobs?

FARIDA: Yes, a lot, a lot. Our relatives even my dad went to the Middle East, he worked in the Middle East at a French oil company, my dad was in the Middle East for years, at least for 20 years he was in the Middle East. A lot of my relatives went to the Middle East, they worked in the Middle East. But in the Middle East most of the time they did off jobs, worked in the homes, on the roads, construction, those kinds of things. They [the Arabs] used to misbehave badly with our Bangladeshi people, what I heard from my dad. They would call Bangladeshis “miskeen” meaning they were poor, they world torcher them physically and tortured a lot of Bengalis. For many they worked, but they wouldn’t get their salary and would keep their salary. They [the Bangladeshis] have already sold their property and had gone to support their families. A lot of Bengalis struggled. Some Arab people were good and they would treat them like their sons, but most of them had very bad experiences in the Middle East.

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

FARIDA: The war, the 1971 war. I think that if the war didn’t happen then still we would be under the Pakistani control, the Pakistanis would dominate us. The Bengalis that are in higher [position] jobs, in bigger posts, and education, they wouldn’t have anything because the Pakistanis would control everything. Meaning they would be like second [class citizens], that’s why the war is Bangladesh’s... there was a lot of harmful effects during the war, a lot of people died, but still that was a big thing for Bangladesh that they were able to have their own country and is doing everything themselves.

MATIN: Did you ever learn about New York or United States history in school?

FARIDA: No in Bangladesh no and I never went to school here so I don’t know any history. Now, when I work in the schools, when I teach the kids in the first and second grade then I learn a few things about things here, but basically I don’t know about the history.

MATIN: Do you know anyone who did contract marriages in order to get their citizenship?

FARIDA: Yes, I saw and I know many people. My dad also did contract marriage to get his green card and in our village many of the uncles... I saw a lot of people from Sandwip that did contract marriage and to get their green card after coming here.

MATIN: You talked earlier about your immigration process, how did you feel about getting your citizenship?

FARIDA: I think... good and bad... the immigration system here I think it is a longer process and because of that long process there is a lot of issues. Citizenship is fine after five years I can apply to be a citizen and already I’m here and getting the opportunities and with the family. But when you come as an immigrant from Bangladesh that process is so long there becomes a distant between the families. Like we missed our dad a lot because of the longer processing, even my mom came later and that was also because of the long process. I think that the immigration system here needs to be faster, at least they don’t have to give them the green card, at least a work permit or something to let them be with the family later by process they can get the green card or become a citizen.

MATIN: But how did you feel after getting your citizenship?

FARIDA: Oh, after getting my citizenship I felt really great, it was a different experience. I had to memorize a lot of questions and study and I was very nervous. But I felt good that they thought I could be a citizen of this country, they talked and understood that they gave me this. I really appreciate it and feel better.

MATIN: When you first got a job here, what kinds of experiences did you have working with other groups of people?

FARIDA: My job... I have been in America for more than 28 years now, but I started working the last right years... for eight years I have been working. Alhamdulillah I never... I worked two jobs one in a daycare for one and half year and the last seven years I’ve been working at the same elementary school where I began my first job. But I never found anything bad, I always had good coworkers and are still like this Alhamdulillah, I never felt anything bad from them they appreciate me a lot, my religion, my culture, everything. They are friendly and I’m still working in a good environment. I have no bad experience.

MATIN: Do you still reminisce [remember] about your life in Bangladesh?

FARIDA: Yes, I remember. What I miss about my life in Bangladesh my elementary school as I said all of my friends we would walk together to school I miss those things. Then the rickshaw journey in Bangladesh and every few days we would have get together with friends, we went to fuskas, ice cream, it was a different feeling. Here... I felt like after coming here the responsibilities has increased so maybe those things in life we are not able to enjoy anymore. But in Bangladesh as a student there weren’t any responsibilities, I was free, I miss those things.

MATIN: What is your favorite memory about Bangladesh or your life there?

FARIDA: My favorite memory is that... number one as a I said getting together with friends and every year after we were done with our final exams, in Bangladesh the final exams finished in December then we would go visit Sandwip, we left Sandwip when I was in second grade. We would go visit our grandma and that was in our life the whole year... in Bangladesh... here everyone goes to vacation every year, but in Bangladesh we didn’t have that, now people are doing it going on vacation to Cox Bazar and other places. But during our time we didn’t have that we all had a dream that after exams we would go to nanu’s house, that was our dream. That thing is what I miss, I still feel like I’m going to Sandwip and when I think about that it feels great.

MATIN: How did you keep track of events in Bangladesh after you left?

FARIDA: Now keeping track is not a big deal. Before we heard on the phone, my mom or other relatives would say today is Eid or Ramadan, but now because of technology being advanced we always have... even in my own house the Bangla channels are always on, because of technology we can find out about everything, when is New Year, when is Eid, when is Ramadan, everything got easier for us to find out.

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

FARIDA: Change yes, I had to change a lot, like after becoming an immigrant and coming here, the hard life that I faced maybe if I lived in Bangladesh I wouldn’t have faced it. When I lived in Bangladesh as a student whatever I wanted happened, I was very... my sisters say you were always stubborn, no one could say anything to you, I didn’t have to sacrifice anything to be honest, my things were mine. But after coming here everything changed, living standard, my own behavior I had to change a lot, cultural change, everything I had to change, which I won’t be able to finish talking about.

MATIN: Is there any part of your life that you would change though?

FARIDA: I did change...

MATIN: Like for good or bad...

FARIDA: Oh, for good... what I changed for good is that I was able to learn a lot from Americans which as a Muslim I didn’t have, that is something that I achieved that I feel good about. Another change from before is that I had to become more responsible, I had to, sacrifice, helping, caring, all of these changed for me after coming here which I didn’t have while living in desh.

MATIN: Do you have any regrets?

FARIDA: No, I don’t have any regrets. In the beginning maybe I had a few regrets, but now I think no maybe this was meant to be for me. The way I am now Alhamdulillah no complaints, I’m happy, I don’t have any more regrets.

MATIN: What accomp-...

FARIDA: There is one regret which is as I said coming to this country and going to college was a dream, but I was never able to complete that. I am working as a teacher’s assistant now, but if I went to college maybe I could’ve worked as a teacher. That is the one regret that I have. I don’t have that time anymore almost 50 years close to 50 years [in age], I don’t have the time. I do only regret that.

MATIN: What accomplishments are you most proud of?

FARIDA: The biggest accomplishment I am proud of is Allah giving me three daughters, three daughters Alhamdulillah I think I try my best to raise them and to teach them about my culture, they are following Islam nicely Alhamdulillah, I am very happy. I don’t know how much I was able to make my husband happy, he can say that better, my kids can also say as a mom how much I did... I tried my best and I don’t have any regrets about that. Another thing is that I didn’t get an education in country as I said, but still, I am working in a school system in this country, that I feel so proud of, this good... I mean I was able to achieve it that even if I didn’t get an education in this country I am working in a school system which I am proud of myself for.

MATIN: Is there anything else you want to say or share about your life or immigration journey?

FARIDA: Immigration journey after the hardship I am not in a good place and I hope I can always stay like this and all the things that I taught my kids, culture, religion, that they are able to continue those things, when they have their own home they have as I said responsibility, caring, sacrificing, that they are able to continue that in their own lives. That’s it I don’t have... that is I what I want from Allah. I am happy with everything Alhamdulillah, Allah has kept me here, my daughters are good, my daughters are getting a good education, I’m in a good place, I don’t have any complaints. Alhamdulillah, like this happy. Thank you.

Collection: Subat Matin Oral History Interviews
Donor: Subat Matin
Item History: 2023-05-30 (created); 2023-06-01 (modified)

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