(This passage has been modified from the original piece written for the Bangladesh Society of New Jersey's Victory Day - December 2016 publication)
Contrary to popular belief, growing up in the garden state was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I lived a very colorful childhood which I attribute to the community I was raised in. While being wholeheartedly immersed in Bengali & Muslim cultures, my parents also made conscious efforts to ensure that I embraced being an American. My parents perceived America as the land that would offer the optimal futures for their three daughters and they're forever grateful to this country for doing just that.
It wasn't until 2016 that being offspring of immigrants was something that I ever gave much thought to. If anything, I was always very proud to say my parents were immigrants. It actually fascinates me now that I'm an adult when I think about our parents' bravery and what they did for the futures of their unborn children. Think about it - in their early 20's, they uprooted their lives form a country where they were surrounded by the familiarity of family, food, language, lifestyle, and traveled across the globe, far away from their families, where everyone was a stranger, weather was drastically different, traditions were completely foreign, and to some, the language was unknown. Yet despite all the challenges and struggles immigrants face, our parents successfully raised 1st generation Bangladeshi-American kids. It's easy to take our parents for granted but as I get older, I become increasingly appreciative of what they did for us; they sacrificed their wants and needs to ensure that their children were equipped with the proper foundation for a prosperous future. I can only hope to be as doting of a parent some day.
So what is an ideal 1st generation Bengali kid one might ask? Well, they're bright, respectful, talented, culturally-involved, fluent in Bangla, love "bhaath" and their families. The exemplary 1st generation Bengali kid is a chameleon - they are malleable to their environment and can charm their way through anything. This is the perfect segue to my next topic. In October, our community suffered an irreparable and incomprehensible loss, Sadaaf Mehnaz Husain. When I was asked to write this passage in honor of Sadaaf, I guiltily thought to myself, "I don't know if I'm the right person to write this." Sure, I'm her childhood friend but she had so many best friends who could recount many more detailed memories of her. That being said, I'm profoundly honored to be writing about her legacy and will write from the perspective of a great admirer of her beautiful soul.
From near and afar, I've always adored Sadaaf. Ever since I was a kid, I used to say that she was the ultimate "IT" girl. She was intelligent and eloquent, stunning and beautiful, graceful and confident, incredibly generous and thoughtful, and just an all around cool person. Sadaaf had this aura around her like she was a celebrity; her smile and funny faces were infectious. She was the perfect hybrid of a traditional and modern Bengali woman who was respectful of elders but simultaneously shared an honest relationship with them. Family was everything to her. She was the golden child, a loving daughter, a supportive sister, an ideal daughter-in-law, and the greatest team player in her marriage.
Sadaaf was a passionate humanitarian, a social media guru, a foodie, and a trendsetter with her unique fashion sense. I speak on behalf of our entire community when I say that we healthily idolized her but she totally deserved all the applause. She was essentially a unicorn; she was that 1st generation Bengali kid we all aspired to be like. Sadaaf is a vivid reflection of her parents, Murad Uncle and Seema Auntie, two amazing human beings who raised their children to be open-minded, respectful, easy going intellects with core Bangladeshi traditions and values ingrained in them.
Aside from the allergy which ultimately took her life, Sadaaf was a healthy, vivacious woman with so much life ahead of her. Our entire community was excitedly waiting for her to pass her enviable traits and good genes onto her own children and be in complete awe of the stylish outfits she'd dress them in. I don't know that we'll ever be able to fully recover from this nonsensical loss; it is still difficult to digest. I pray to the almighty that her family is given the strength they need to bear their loss. The only thing I can articulate is that we're truly so fortunate to have spend the time that we did with her and the heavens are so lucky to have her as an angel.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Like Sadaaf and her brothers, being children of immigrants in a foreign land brought us all together through which we developed the strongest of bonds. In addition to my own parents, I have so many moms and dads from our "village" (including Sadaaf's parents) who have been influential contributors to my upbringing. We're not just a tight-knit society, we're family. Together, we will face challenges and celebrate the joys of life. We are who we are because of each other. Though I've been away for a decade, I am forever grateful to the Bengali community I grew up with.
Life is full of ebbs and flows; all of our trajectories are unknown. Whether a sudden death or an approaching presidency unfavorable to our community, it's important that our bond remains tighter than it's ever been. We cannot be discouraged or become despondent. We must be proud of who we are, where we come from, what we represent, and stand united.
We miss you Sadaaf
Rest peacefully & beautifully
(February 19, 1987 - October 20, 2016)