MD Islam’s Interview as told to Shio Fung Zhu

Country Life

I was born in Bangladesh, in Chandpur in 1993.  I forgot a lot of the stuff, but the stuff I can remember was that it was more like the countryside.  So it was not a city, Bangladesh was mostly country regardless.  It didn’t have pavement; it had dirt roads.  It had like those flea markets that see, those were markets.  Our houses were not really modern; they had those metal roofs, the ones they use in the countryside [not shingles, perhaps similar to the metal roofs of houses in American shanty towns].  Bangladesh was like one of the most impoverished countries –a third world country– so it wasn’t high tech.  Country was totally different; it wasn’t like the city at all.  I also remember building a fucking a boat with tree logs or the like, and it would fucking float [the slang was used to refer to the act of building the boat as being funny; not in the disrespectful sense].  It was a raft; it was not like a canoe or whatever, so a raft would make more sense.

American Start

I came to the U.S in, I believe, 2000.  I came here when I was 7 or 8 years old.  I remember it was more towards the beginning of the year, because when I arrived I was put into elementary school, in the second grade or whatever.  It was also nearing the end of the school year, which was like the beginning of the year.  I guess it was more like March or May.

I am not exactly sure why we came here, but let tell you what happened.  My father actually won the lottery.  So he went to my uncle’s store, his brother’s store, and he bought a lottery ticket and he won the lottery.  And I guess that when people win the lottery, they come to this country [United States].  I mean everyone wants to come here, you know.  In Bangladesh, they dead-ass think that this country is where you get rich; like you get money just like that; like everything is easy; you live life easy.  We [American immigrants] know that this is bullshit.  They think that this one of those dream countries.

Most immigrants think that coming here will change their lives.  Of course it does change their lives, you know what I’m saying, but it’s not as easy as they think it is.  When my father won the lottery he came here and just worked.  He worked and brought us [MD’s immediate family] here.  He worked for a long time and I remember he had to stay with roommates.  He was a fruit vendor, like those on the streets these days.  It was tough job.  I think he did that and was able to afford to bring us here.  I think he got his citizenship, too.  When we came, we automatically became U.S. citizens through him.  I came here; it was a breeze.

My first day here, I remember, was at the airport.  I remember that everything was automatic –the sinks, the toilets–; country-boy coming here sees automatic things.  What I really remember was the escalators.  I don’t know if you have experienced this, but the first time you try to use the escalators is like what the hell is going on, like you know, I feared for my life.  Like how do you get on, how do you get off, I was so scared man.  So the airport and also the airplane ride over was fascinating.  You know, first times.


Fresh off the Boat

When we first came here we didn’t actually live in the apartment on Argyle Road.  We were staying in other people’s homes, through friends or relatives; not really direct relatives, just people that we knew.  We would go to their house and just stay a couple of nights.

One of the things I noticed was that the people we stayed with were really rich.  They owned their houses and there was a certain smell.  When I first saw them I was like, damn these people have like really nice stuff.  The smell was like really sweet to me, and their lifestyles were like bizarre to me.  It’s crazy when you see the difference [between there and Bangladesh] though.  Community-wise, we stayed with people we knew in the beginning until we got our own apartment.  We would sleep on the floor, couch, or whatever space there were.  You know, one family that I stayed with fascinated me.  They had a room filled with toys, even to this day I’m like “what the hell.”  Like literally, they had a room and toys were just in piles, and I was kid so that room fascinated me.

In the beginning going to school, I really hated it.  When I went to school I didn’t know the language, so that was another obstacle.  When you go to school and you don’t know the language and the culture, it is just not fun.  It was really tough.  You can’t communicate with these people and there was bullying, too, so that was fucked up.  I don’t know if this still goes on but there is a stigma towards immigrants.  At least, I felt it; they would treat you differently just because you were new to the country.  So the beginning of the year was very rough.  But after you start learning the language and you can talk to these people, it [their treatment of you] improved greatly.  I made friends, and just an overall better experience.


Culture clash

My mother makes Bengali food, which is all she knows how to make.  We’ll keep eating Bengali food, even when I get tired of rice.  For us kids, we are different from our parents.  A lot of the Bengali culture has faded from us.  A lot of the stuff that is fading is good that it is fading because it is really bad culture.  Like you don’t understand, Bengali people talk behind each other’s backs a lot, which is something I am losing.  I wouldn’t like if people talked behind my back.  Also Bengali courtesy, obviously my parents know it, but we don’t really know these Bengali customs as much as they do.  I don’t know how to make the Bengali food; my mom makes it.  My Bengali is also like yours [my loss of Chinese is analogous to his loss of Bengali].  Learning English, right in the middle of learning another language, before mastering really messes things up.  So you don’t know the language and you come here and are forced to learn English, and it kind of overrides it [the native tongue].  And a lot of Bengali people point out that flaw even though they expect that the kids wouldn’t know the language as well.

Oh my god, I am such a bad Muslim.  I was a good Muslim.  I used to be very religious when I came here.  But it just got less and less and less and less.  I practice the religion because I was born into it.  A majority of Bengali people are actually just born into the religion.  The religion tells us to do something but we don’t do it, like pray five times a day.  We just don’t follow it.  I fast, though, it is one of things that I do do.