Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kanwal Rahman, July 15, 1999. Interview K-0817. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Finding strength in a new cultural environment

With her Bangladeshi safety net gone, Rahman found surprising strength in herself as she lived and studied alone in Chapel Hill, she describes. She had to replace the dependence that her upbringing instilled in her with a sense of individuality and self-reliance. Insecurities can still remain behind a veneer of maturity, Rahman concedes, as a single Asian woman without a support system.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kanwal Rahman, July 15, 1999. Interview K-0817. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And I was wondering if you could talk a little about: a) how you feel you've changed as an individual, and b) how you've changed as a woman? You know, if you would feel comfortable talking about that, how this culture has changed those two things for you, if at all.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Well, of course, eight years in a culture without going back home periodically like a lot of, er. . ... my friends from Bangladesh do, or have the lucky opportunity to do so. I didn't have that. It has changed me a lot. It has made me more reflective. It also could be, er. . ... something to do with the fact that you're more alone, and, and it's not, er. . .. And most of your decisions you make alone, most your strivings you're doing alone. You may have friends, but they're not with you at night when you're going to bed, in the next room, like your parents were and the rest of your four sisters were. So, you don't have that feeling of security, and, er. . ... how it has evolved as, me as a woman, I realize strengths in me that I didn't think eight years back that I have. I would say I've matured at a faster rate, regardless of the fact that from your twenties into early thirties there is a growth change and you are reflective, because of the decade, er. . .. Change. But, er. . . it has made me mature before, somehow, I wouldn't say about all of South-Asia but, I don't know, in Indian cultures— regardless whether it's Pakistan, Bangladesh, or India— ahm. . . girls, or daughters of relatively upper middle-class families, or upper class families, are sort of encouraged to be spoilt and dependent. I wouldn't use the word "spoiled", but I will use the word "dependent". You are not allowed to drive, because your father forbade you, so you come to United States not being able to drive. You can't, er. . . you can't go out and do grocery shopping, because you've never done it, so you have to learn that. You have never cooked in your life because somebody had always cooked—whether it's your mother, or whether it was somebody, and you were, you were just—. So, those are the things that you learn very fast. How to be on your own footstep, and also, not to expect the world to do it for you, or give it to you. And I would say that for a long time—maybe the first couple of years—I was very upset that—, I chose to stay here, but I didn't have what I, what I have from home, meaning I wanted a, I wanted both worlds at the same time.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Right.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
And that—. I think, one thing that happens is, is a continental girl or South-Asian girl stays here alone—I'm not saying with the support of a husband—it's a whole different story than someone who come here with her husband who already has a job and she's a housewife here, and—. Er. . ..
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Oh, yeah. I know exactly what you mean and I agree with that and when I posed that question to you, I was talking exactly about those people. People like you and me, who come here as single, independent people and not already in a relationship, because I think if you change, if at all you change, that change is going to be very different if you come here as part of—.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
With a spouse.
RAJIKA BHANDARI:
Yeah, with a spouse, as opposed to coming here alone and, sort of, navigating your way—.
KANWAL RAHMAN:
Navigating your way around—. And then finding the best way of, er.. dealing, and then learning to also respond the way—. You end up learning to respond the way they expect you to. Not necessarily giving up your identity, but basically, you end up being, er. . . behaving and acting in a way that is more common with Americans, and that's also giving out the image that you're very confident and mature, and responsible, which develops anyway, by the time you're eight years. But Inside, you can still be insecure, regardless of the fact that you have developed all these other aspects, too. The feeling of insecurity as a single Asian woman in America, for the future, or for anything or, you know, the fact that we don't have a support system—is there.