“I’ve never been in a room with a South Asian photographer, filmmaker, and teacher, before… I mean, how do you do that? How did your parents let you get away with that?!”
This past Saturday, I spent the day photographing a Pakistani guy propose to his girlfriend on the ice at Rockefeller Center. After looking for a place to crash, I ended up in Harlem, at my friend Musa’s apartment. His brother Esa was also visiting. Musa is an award-winning filmmaker, while Esa is a talented and successful educator. In addition to their careers, they both have passions beyond their day jobs. Along with their family, they have served as inspirations for me as I continue my journey to discover and pursue what I love.
That evening at Musa’s place, his roommate had a bunch of friends over. They consisted of engineers, accountants, and people working in the financial sector. Which, if you aren’t familiar with American-Desi culture, are the usual career choices for young men whose parents immigrated from the subcontinent. One of them, the accountant in particular, seemed floored by Musa, Esa, and I…
Musa suggested that it really had to do with having parents who encouraged and valued creativity.
A decade ago, when my father still resembled a South Asian uncle to some extent, he would speak to me about prestige, and how it was important in life. While both my parents encouraged my creative pursuits by doing everything from helping me write poetry to driving me to karate classes, my father would drop names like Princeton and Harvard and suggest becoming a doctor. This is not uncommon among people of his background.
But then something changed.
Years later, after starting HijabMan, finding a full-time job, and studying a mix of Psychology, Middle Eastern Studies, and Women’s Studies, I found myself having another conversation with my father about life. It was then that I reminded him of his long-winded ‘prestige’ monologue.
“Isn’t prestige still important to you, Dad? You always mentioned Princeton and becoming a doctor…”
After a short pause, he responded.
“ Beta, you’ve made your own prestige.”