Amna, a 30-year-old Muslim, Pakistani-American Anthropologist

“I think first and foremost I define myself ethnically. I’m Pakistani, I’m Muslim, so my faith matters a lot to me. I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, and a friend. I love dogs. And I’m an Anthropologist. So I studied cultural anthropology. I’m obsessed with learning about people and their cultures, their backgrounds, and I think it’s like something I’ve infused really into my entire life. So that’s a big one for me.”

Turning 30.

So a lot of girls in the Southeast-Asian culture, by the time they turn 30, they’ve gotten married, they have kids, they have their whole life together or their perception of that. That’s what we know to be. And I have a lot of those things, but I don’t have some of them. I’m single, I don’t have a family yet. And I was just nervous about reaching this point. Because I think during my childhood, or even when I was in college, it was like when I turn 30, I’ll be a mom, and that’s just understood. My mom became a mom at 22, she got married at 21.

So those are all just things that you’re expected to do and I think I was just really scared of hitting this milestone and then not knowing what was next. Feeling really great about my career and my that and all those things, but this idea of like not having a family yet I was just scared about.

And then it happened, and I was like nothing’s changed and I’m fine. It was almost like the sense of relief that now I’m in this space where I can figure out what I want to do on my own. I don’t have a million voices telling me that you should be going here, you should be doing this in your life. What’s the next step? It just seems like taking a breather for a second.

Goals at 30.

I think I would like to have a family one day, so that’s still one of my goals. I’d love to have a partner. My parents have been married now for 42 years and they’re best friends. It’s a different kind of marriage, and now that I see was like my brother and my sister-in-law where there’s still a little bit more puppy love, my parents are just best friends. And they’re each other’s support system, and confidants, and they also argue with one another. And that’s just how they are and they always will be.

I just love that idea. So that’s something I’m focused on. And I think at this age too for me, is having more awareness in myself and I’m taking time to kind of design my life a little bit. I think a lot of my 20’s was chasing after what was expected. So you go to college, then you graduate, then you find your first job, then you try to progress in your career. And everything is focused on this upward motion and getting somewhere. And I think now it’s a little bit about reevaluating things in my life. And what works for me, what doesn’t, how do I want to live? I also think I’m really fortunate culturally with my parents, because a lot of Pakistani girls still live at home. And they have a sheltered lifestyle, and I’ve been living on my own for the past couple years now. My siblings live close by, my parents live across the world, so I have a sense of independence which I think a lot of others don’t. And that affords me a lot of opportunity to kind of figure out what I want to do, so I’m glad about that.

A Need for Independence.

I think a lot of what drives my independence is the fact that I’m the youngest child, and I’m the only girl in the family. So the age difference between me and my brothers is 10 years. And that always meant that I was always the baby. And I was always the little kid and the little sister, and I still continue to fight that in my family.

But I think it’s like that idea of, “I can do this! I got this! I don’t need you to tell me to wear a sweater. I know it’s cold outside, I’m good.” And I think it’s just me battling that in my own family. And I still do, I go back home to visit my parents every year. And I’ll be in a situation where my dad comes in, and he just watches me and smiles. And we had this conversation about Scientology last time I was there, about why so many people ascribe to it and why they’re interested in it, and whatever. I’m just fascinated studying it, so I was talking to him about Scientology. And he was like, “You say some really smart things.” And I was just like, alright. I just looked at my mom and I was like, “We’re done here.”

It’s just crazy. I’ll always be his little girl. If I’m 70, I will always just be that person for him. So I think it’s really that that has driven me to feel like I can be independent. I can be financially independent, physically independent. All of these things, I got it. And it’s almost like when they do try to help me, I pushed away and I’m like, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” The number of times I tell my mother “I’m fine” every day because she’s just like, “Did you do this? Did you do your laundry? Did you blah, blah, blah?” And I’m like, “I’m okay!” You know? So I think a lot of it is just fighting for the right to be of age in my family.

Asian Moms.

Asian moms, or in my experience at least, are very tied to their children. I think now we’re starting to redefine it, but if we look at our parents it’s like, “I’m a mom first. And then I’m a business person second.” So I think a lot of it is just this ultimate fear of America and the world and westernization, and “I need to protect my children.”

I remember when we first moved here in ’95, my brothers were 16 at the time. And we were all born in different places and I was seven, or six. And this was our first time in America. My brothers literally would have their friends interviewed by my parents. These guys from their college would come over and then they’d be like,”So what do your parents do? Where are they from?” You know, all of these things because they were just so terrified that my brothers were just going to run a muck and become rebellious and all of these things.

So it’s just this super protection, that just for safety, and morality, and all of these things. I think that it just stays with them. They’re always in parent mode where they can’t separate, or as quickly. And I have some American friends who have grown up here and there’s this understanding that when you’re 18, you’re independent. When you’re 18 in the Asian culture, you’re still a kid who doesn’t know anything in our parent’s eyes. So I think culturally it’s a big difference.

I would fight with my mom and I would be like, “Can you please stop watching 60 Minutes? It’s too much, nothing’s happening.” We never went on a cruise because Barbara Walters is obsessed with all the crazy stuff that freaking happens on cruises. Like we never did that. And it’s just this idea of, “I will drop you to the house, I will pick you up.” I never had sleepovers when I was little because god forbid something would happen at 4 a.m. and my mom would not be there (she laughs). So it’s just interesting because these are all things that I grew up with, where a lot of my Pakistani or Muslim friends also experienced. And at that time you just feel like, “I’m the weirdo. Everyone my class gets to go, I don’t get to go. What’s wrong with me?” But now I just have these shared moments with a lot of my friends where we’re just like, “Yeah. We had really sheltered lifestyles when we were little. Our parents were everywhere!”

But now I look at the world and my kid’s not gonna have a cell phone, they’re gonna be living in a bubble, there’s so much crazy shit out there! So you just end up turning into your parents anyways.

Defining Self-care.

Because I just have these things that are in my normal practice that I do, but I never really think about this idea of self-care. I think the way that I define it is just taking time for myself. So whether that’s reading a book at night on a Friday night and not going out, or investing in some indulgent facial serum, I think it’s whatever I need to do to make myself feel better — that’s what I need to do. So that’s kind of how I define self-care. I think I’m translate it into more of those like micro moments, that allow me to just feel a little bit better. Whether that’s in the moment, or is for that week, or in whatever kind of way or what I need to do.

I’ve lived a life where I’ve lived for other people, in a lot of ways. So whether that’s you know in my career and and the people I work with, or for my family or for my friends, I was always a person that’s like constantly giving to others. And I just found myself in a space where I’m like in a different part of the country, under different time zone, talking to one of my friends at like 2 in the morning because she’s having relationship problems, and in the morning like, putting eye drops in my eyes because I’m so tired. I just like constantly giving to others and I need to like take a step back.

I think in the last couple of years it started to affect me more where I started was like, you know — “What do I need to do to calm myself down so I’m not feeling super anxious, I’m not feeling super tired?” to feel like I have enough energy and also investing in myself.

That’s something that my mom talked to me about throughout my childhood which I never really understood. Like she always, it’s funny because if anyone ever asks her like “what’s the key to a successful marriage?” Because she’s been with my dad for so long, it’s like, “Having space for yourself.” She was very adamant that every house we lived in had a little den or some kind of space for herself where she felt like she could unwind, or take a minute. You know, because she was also a very dedicated mom. And it was like my kids come first, and then she was also career oriented, and then my dad. So she was constantly in the space of giving.

But she would always tell me “It’s good to feel comfortable in your own skin, it’s very important to love yourself, and it’s really important to take time for yourself.” And I mean, when I was 24 like, I didn’t know what that meant — but I think now I’m starting to like really just feel comfortable in my own skin in silence, like I don’t need to be around people all the time to feel validated. In a social setting I don’t always have to make others laugh to feel good about myself. Which is kinda like: taking a second, being by myself, watching a movie, getting some froyo — you know, I don’t know. Like anything just for myself, by myself. That’s kind of my vision and my idea of self-care.

Mom’s Self-care Rituals.

She was always an avid reader. And I think for her, when she was doing book time, it was kind of like — give mom her space. She also culturally, took naps. That’s a very South Asian thing, taking day naps. Which always cracked me up, because I’m like, “Why do you have to sleep at 5:30pm?” But she’d take a half an hour power nap, and it’s kind of like her space and her time, you know? And her like morning tea ritual.

The South Asian continent also is obsessed with tea, and so tea time is a big phenomenon in my family. And so it was the 5pm tea break that she takes with her little biscuits, and that’s a time for her to kind of just disconnect. So I think by infusing these little practices in her day.

And then she would always, when we were younger, talk about the importance of hair health. Because that’s also a big cultural part of our lifestyle, and so she was always putting coconut oil in her hair, or almond oil, or something. And again, that’s an hour that you just dedicate to yourself.

She also worked out her entire life. And I think it’s so interesting when I look at her compared to my aunts, and how different they are. And it’s because my mom literally worked out her entire life. And so she just is in a completely different form of health, and also — just energy.

She’s in her 60’s, so she takes an hour long walk with her friends every night which is like super cute. And I think it’s just these little moments where she just does what she wants, without being associated to my dad in that instance. Or her kids, you just doing it for herself. So now I’m starting to appreciate it a lot more, and see how I can take some of those practices and put them in my life. It’s cool.

She’s always been ‘no-holds-bar’ about it, she’s just like, “I’m gonna do this, this is my time. I love you but you take so much out of me. And just like — yo, I need my nap. I’m gonna disconnect. Don’t wake me up.” And everyone got it, it was like don’t disturb mom when she’s sleeping during her daily nap. Don’t upset mom during tea time, because that’s her time. Don’t call her on her walks, let her enjoy it with her friends. Because if you did she’d be like, “What!? You know the rules!” And I’m just like, oh that’s so bad ass, I wish I was like that. Where I’m like, “Oh I’ll talk to you at 4am about your boyfriend problems, no problem.” It’s cool.

Adopting Mom’s Rituals.

I started doing a little bit more of the power naps which are great and have been helping me. I think another thing is really kind of bringing a lot of those sort of herb related things, or like that the hair mask that I was talking about.

You know it’s funny, like growing up you wanted to come or westernized, you want to become more acculturated, or at least I felt that my ethnicity and my religious background was really separating me. I think a kid of the 90’s you wanted associate more with the 90’s and Saved by the Bell then you wanted to with Bollywood and your parents’ culture. And so I think now it’s such an interesting time because I found myself in space where people were talking to me about my ethnic background and so interested in it. And bringing things into their own lives that are similar. And I’m like, “What happened?” You know, this was weird before. I was the kid was the smelly coconut hair in school or like my mom would send me to lunch with kabobs and people would be like, “What the hell is that?” And I would just be like, “Can I just get a peanut butter sandwich? Why is this so hard for me?”

So I think there’s this transformation of now, how culture is appreciated, and learned and borrowed from. And so now I’m starting to like spend a little more time talking to my mom about what she always did, why she did it. My parents are also really into homeopathic care. And so the influence of nuts and fruits and herbs, and how they transform your body. So I just learn from her and I pull things in when I’m getting sick, doing her little remedy or if I’m trying to feel better about something, doing another remedy. And just kinda learn from her. It’s given me an opportunity to connect with her more, talk to her, learn from her and her ancestral background. And then it also helps me feel like the information is coming from an informed place.

Cultural Remedies.

Turmeric is on everything. I think it’s funny because some of my South-Asian friends and I will laugh about it because we’re just like, “You don’t need to put turmeric in everything.” We walk by Whole Foods and it’s like in milk, and it’s on cookies and just like — dude, this is doing too much. This is way too much, we have now surpassed what’s normal. So I put that on my eggs in the morning, that’s a big part of my practice.

Another thing that I do is every week or so, I’ll do a hair mask. Where I mix almond oil, coconut oil and castor oil, and just put that on for 40 minutes. I also recently discovered my normal hair pattern, which is very weird thing when you’re in your 30’s. But I’d always grown up brushing out my hair and I didn’t realize it was actually curly. It’s bizarre. So now I’m trying to transform my curls and accept them, and learn how to work with them, but it’s so weird when this is happening when I’m 30 years old. So there’s hair stimulated stuff.

And it’s funny because bone broth has become life’s elixir now, in the US. But we grew up with that, you know? Any time we were sick, my mom would boil a chicken and take that broth, put in ground pepper, cumin, more turmeric obviously, and just kind of create this soup. And when we were younger, we would just fight it. We were like, “This is the worst! I just want pasta, this is not what I’m looking for.” And she would be like, “You need it. This is for your immunity.” And now I do it, it just makes me feel better immediately, it ups the game.

Ginger is on everything. I burned myself taking something out of the oven the other day and I didn’t have burn relief or anything, so my mom was like, “Put honey on it.” And so I’ll just do these random things. A lot of it is related to accidents and healing, or some of it is more repair related. But that’s another thing that she’s a big on, honey’s all over. And so I actually get a bunch of stuff from this like organic skin care brand that I found on ETSY. And they have a honey mask, which I just bought so I’m excited to try that.

So I think it’s just those basic things that I’ve always grown up with and learned about that I’m starting to do more of. I think one too, I’m eliciting that advice. So it’s not just on me through my parents, like “You have to do this!” Because you just reject it. So now I’m asking about it and wanting to learn more. And thinking about ok, how do I cook this one thing? And my mom just loves giving advice. She’s just all for it. She goes into a hem and gives me a 40 minute essay on honey and I’m like, “Cool.”

Mom, my BFF.

I think because I’m the youngest and I’m the only girl in the family, my mom and I were always really close. You know she was always there, she worked but she was a teacher. She was a special ed teacher in the same school district that I was in and so she was always home, I was her priority in that sense. And I think because of that I had a lot of influence and I’m very much like her.

As I grow older, everybody that I meet is always like, “You’re just like your mom.” She was always the loudest voice in the room, making people laugh, but even just now into jewelry. Like I’m turning into her, you know? And I’m just like, these are all things that I rejected when I was younger. But I just look myself in the mirror and I’m like, “I like shawls now, I’m into flowy dresses, I’m my mom.” You know? So it’s funny and I think she’s just so intelligent. She’s always been a fighter which I really respect.

She has a huge sense of humor. She’s really caring and I think what I admire most about her is her ability to look at difficult situations and just see them from a completely different perspective. So she has gotten a lot closer to her faith as she’s gotten older, which I think is a general trend that I’ve found with my friends and their families and their parents too. Islam is a beautiful religion but it’s a lot of it is heavy practice, right? So this idea of praying five times a day, being really good person and doing charity at all points of your life. It’s it’s not a passive faith by any sense.

And I think when you’re younger you kind of put it off and focus on other things, but as you get older you just start to like appreciated it more. You think about life in a different kind of way, and so I started to see that more with her and I think it’s like fascinating. But she really uses her relationship with God or Allah as the foundation for why life is. She talks to him constantly. She’s always asking him for support. She reads the Quran, both I think in terms of like practice and appreciation, but also in core understanding. And she uses a lot of that scripture to dedicate to her life and also use as a foundation to tell why she live the way that she does.

When I was growing up my understanding of religion was very based on Al Jadid, which is basically stories and tellings of how the profit lived his life. So my parents were less about (saying) these things are and are not okay, but more about look at this person who lives an exemplary life and learn from him. So it’s a lot of focus on life being a good person, being kind to others, being selfless, being really there for your community… Those are all the foundations for my morals, and that came from my parents practices and teachings. And a lot of it was my mom spending time with me on: this is good, this is a bad, this is what you do, this way you don’t do. Because ultimately you want to live a good life.

So I think now it’s you know anytime I’m in a difficult situation, or in a bind, or frustrated, she just allows me to open my eyes and kind of think beyond that moment. She’s just like, “This is so small.” You know, thinking back to my ankle, I was just so frustrated. And I’d be like, “My friends are out there living their lives, people are going on vacation, and I’m literally sitting with a giant cast on my couch watching Parks & Rec, or whatever I was doing. And she would just be like, “You know this will pass. Everything passes. Everything is a learning lesson, everything comes into your life for a reason, and if things are removed from your life it’s for a reason.” And I think it’s that side of it that like I always go back to her.

We talked about everything, she’s my best friend. I am very fortunate where I can talk to her about relationship problems, or frustrations, or fights with my brothers. And she’s just always there to listen. I have some friends who don’t really have that close relationship with their moms specifically, and I just feel really lucky for that. You know, she’s just always been my best friend because it’s just us. I don’t have any other sisters. I also was generally a good kid, I didn’t feel like I needed to explore a completely different life. And I think that has just kept us close. It’s funny now, but literally in my prayers every night I just pray that God keeps her around me forever. And she’s always gets annoyed and says, “You should be praying for yourself.” And I’m like, “No! You don’t understand, if something happens to you I will lose my mind.” She’s just my lifeline in a lot of ways.

I feel like I get a lot from her. I think this idea of just unwavering, unconditional support and someone who’s always there for you. In that sense, everything that I needed from my mom, she is. But I think really her perspective on life. And its design through this lens of religion and this idea that like whatever comes into your life, comes in for reason whatever leaves your life leaves for a reason. And there’s always opportunity, and there’s destiny, but there are ways to impact it. So I think it’s this perception of the future in that sense, that allows me to not take every moment too seriously or not get too invested, or get too bogged down when something’s not working out. Because knowing that the next month will be there, the next year will be there, and you know God willing all of those things. That’s really that kind of perspective on issues, small and big, and then also just excitement for the future.

On Being Fulfilled.

I think that I’ve kind of see life in these micro moments. And things that I want to do and accomplish by specific dates. But I don’t think that I’m there yet, I think that there’s still so much for me to do. And fulfillment, in that sense, I translate to goals. You know, so when I say that I’m not there yet, I mean there’s still so much that I want to experience and accomplish, and then I’ll feel like, “Okay, now I’ve arrived.” And in my everyday, I feel really confident, I feel really good about where I am. I think there’s a few things that I want to work on. I just have the self-awareness which I think allows me to be happy and content. But I think that there’s still more out there for me to do and experience before I can be like, “Okay, I got it.” You know?

My family’s always been really driven, whether that’s academically or professionally, they’ve all done amazing things. And so that was definitely infused in me at a young state, to be driven about where you want to go in your life and what you want to be. That was always a big focus for me. And that I think associated with being a good person, and having good people in your life. So I think it’s it’s also relationships with my brothers and continuing to be close to them, relationships with my parents, giving back to our community, all of those ties I think help me feel like I’m doing the right thing. Fulfillment, in that sense, a lot of it I think is having the impact you leave on people in your lifetime. That’s also how I associate that term, so I think it’s, you know, how much charity I do, what I do for for my family and my extended family, how do I give back? All of those things I think together is what is a fulfilled life for me.

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#WeAreAllDaughters: Amna, a 30-year-old Muslim, Pakistani-American Anthropologist was originally published in we are all daughters. on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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