Chai Talk: The beautiful Aamna on growing up in America and the beauty of Ramadan

In honor of Ramadan, I thought I would interview my dear friend, Aamna. She is super cute and extremely dedicated to her culture. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and where your family is from.

My family is from Pakistan! I was born there, and we moved to New York City when I was a year old. I’m the only girl of three brothers, and I’ll be starting graduate school in Atlanta this fall. I like Oscar Wilde and pretentious cheese.

How was your experience growing up in the U.S.? How do you strike a balance between living in the U.S. but also incorporating your own culture?

I think growing up in America as an immigrant’s child always results in a kind of dissonance. It’s hard to reconcile the way our parents try to raise us, according to a culture we don’t live in, with the world we are trying to be a part of. A sense of balance is nothing if not vital, I think. For instance, wanting to go to prom while we were in high school, but knowing our experience would be much more modest and controlled than our peers’. That said, I hardly have anything to complain about. I’m in love with both of my cultures, and I’m so grateful for how open-minded and empathetic being an immigrant’s child makes me.

What are some of your struggles being a child of immigrant parents?

For me, the biggest sense of struggle I’ve faced in my life is a heavy complex of guilt. I feel guilty for absolutely everything. When you realize how much your parents gave up and suffered to give you this life, it puts weight on your shoulders. You want to make their suffering worth it, you want to give them something that justifies their hardships. That’s one guilt.

If you think about your family back home, your shoulders get even heavier. I think about my absolutely beautiful cousins, who are incredible and brilliant and graceful, and who’ll get to be nothing more than housewives — because they don’t live in a culture that serves them to be anything more. So it’s hard to feel like I deserve this life, full of endless education and true freedom, more than they do. I have a difficult time justifying in my mind that there are kids in Syria who know nothing but war and apartheid, while I somehow escaped those worlds with absolutely no effort on my own part.

I guess, if we were really parsing it down, I would say my biggest “struggle” is feeling like my life isn’t really mine. I’m the culmination of a million sacrifices and a thousand dreams realized. I feel like I’m living my life on behalf of everyone who can’t.

What is your ABSOLUTE favorite thing about your culture?

My favorite thing about my culture would be the language. That sounds strange, but Urdu and Hindi are such poetic tongues. I adore how whimsical and romantic their songs sound, but I also love how satisfying it is to call someone a bhenchod.

For you, what is the significance of Ramadan?

Ahhh, I love Ramadan! For me, it’s an absolute spiritual cleanse. I try to be a better person, more patient and tolerant. I also try to not swear as much, I don’t drink, and I won’t really put myself in any position where I’m doing things I shouldn’t be doing. It’s a month devoted to being charitable and gracious, and I try really hard to do it properly. The older I’ve gotten, the more seriously I take the implications of cleansing your soul. I recently read something about how Ramadan wasn’t just a month to force you to behave, it’s a month that proves how much good you have in you. I like that a lot.
So there you have it! The beautiful Aamna! In hearing her story, I hope you can relate to your own. I know I def can! The guilt complex is so real among South Asians with immigrant parents. But that’s a topic for another post!
Until next time,
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