The first thing Ferdous notices as she walks out of the Church Avenue subway station at 8 PM is the reddish hue of the sky as the sun begins to set. More people are mingling on the streets, and she sees young students playing with a soccer ball outside. It is almost time for summer, she says to herself.
By the time she gets home, the sun has completely set. She is welcomed by the sight of her grumpy husband cooking in the kitchen and her two children watching TV. She’s too tired to do much, but she still speaks animatedly with her family about her day at class.
She tells her children to stop watching TV and to go back to studying. Both children oblige and turn off the set, but not without rolling their eyes and grumbling about how they already finished their work. It’s hard for them to understand, she muses to herself. Education is way too important for them to understand.
“It’s the backbone that makes a person, and without it one cannot stand with strength.”
Ferdous lives with her husband Mohammed and her two children Sabah, aged 18, and Mohammed, aged 15. The four of them live in an apartment in the neighborhood of Kensington, located towards the south of Prospect Park. More specifically, the family lives near McDonald Avenue, on which one of the largest Bengali populations of New York resides. A quarter of Kensington’s population is comprised of Bengali residents, as compared to the overall 5.6% of Bengali residents in New York City.
Before moving to the United States, Ferdous had gone through a similar process of immigration during her time in Moscow, Russia. After living in Bangladesh for almost 30 years, Ferdous moved to Russia shortly after meeting and marrying Mohammed, who owned a small business there. The two stayed in Russia a few years before moving to New York with their children. Though they moved to Brooklyn several years ago, Ferdous has recently been working on getting a US Bachelor’s Degree. Her Master’s in Biology from the University of Dhaka is of no use in the United States. Even as a former university professor in Bangladesh, Ferdous has to go back to school in order to work.
With Ferdous having a background in education, and with Mohammed having studied abroad in Russia during his college years, the two weighed education as one of the more important aspects of life. To them, education was what brought success and future comfort. It only seemed natural that they moved to the United States, a place where many immigrants like them try to be successful.
“People think that even after having everything, having an American education, studying in the US, everything in America is thought to be so much better. So I do it for the sake of my children.”
Ferdous is the most active when everyone else in the house settles in for the night. She uses this time to scroll through her Facebook feed, chat and joke around with her old college roommates, and to read up on news. The news that has been on her mind most recently is the deaths of three young adults during a car crash in Darwin, Australia. What concerns her the most is that the victims of the crash in Kakadu National Park were from the sizable Bangladeshi community in Darwin.
“Make sure you drive safely, God knows there are enough troubles in the world,” she tells her daughter.
Part of the reason why Ferdous likes living in Kensington so much is because of the safety it provides for its residents. In fact Kensington is considered one of the safest safest neighborhood in Brooklyn, along with Borough Park. Major crime rates in Kensington have also decreased dramatically over the past two decades.
Ferdous also appreciates the accessibility to foods and transportation in the neighborhood. “Everyone gets along well. Transport is easy, if we need to go anywhere there’s always a train or a bus around. It takes only 30 minutes to get to Manhattan from here. There are Bengali bazaars with American groceries. We can have things like Bengali fish and vegetables, and everything is available. I feel secure here.”
Even with her thoughts on the quality of the education or the safety that she feels, there will always be a burden of the hardships her family endures in the United States. In Bangladesh, the couple owns a large and beautiful house, alongside other forms of real estate. Even in Russia, after moving away from her family, she still lived in relative comfort in a large apartment complex. With most of their family living in Bangladesh, the family’s standard of living would have been much higher had they moved back to Dhaka from Russia instead of moving to New York.
She claims, however, that she doesn’t regret moving with her husband to Kensington. With the benefits of living in both Bangladesh or Russia, living in the US was the best choice for the family. In Dhaka, her children may have been gotten the necessary education, but there would have always been fear of harassment, mainly towards her daughter. More than half of women experienced some form of violence in 2015 in Bangladesh, according to a survey by the United Nations. There is also political unrest, which always creates larger issues within the country. Bangladesh is considered a relatively new country, and there have been numerous violent protests over elections in the past 10 years. Additionally, tensions always rank high between the two main parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), both of which contain various forms of political corruption.
Living in Russia would have come with its own set of problems. Education under a language like Russian would have been difficult in the long run, especially in a world where english is rapidly becoming the dominant language. Additionally, immigrants are not treated well in Moscow. Anti-immigration sentiment in Russia have resulted in numerous riots and other violent events. Public opinion polls of Russians found that many were wary of the immigrants in their regions. For Ferdous and her husband, this statistics meant that staying in Russia would have meant living in constant fear of getting hurt and discriminated against.
“I would have been stressed and scared all the time. Here you can walk freely. In New York, especially, it’s really liberal, you can learn to accept many things. I’m not afraid.”
What wakes Ferdous up at 6 AM on a Wednesday afternoon is not her alarm clock, but rather the rush of her husband and kids rushing around the house. As the three get ready for work and school, she prepares tea and a small breakfast to start their days before going back to sleep. She wakes up again at a more conceivable time with the sun shining brightly outside. Despite the weather starting to warm up, the landlord still keeps the heat on, which makes the temperature unbearable.
Ferdous doesn’t mind the heat too much, however. When she first arrived in New York, she and her husband stayed in a quaint, but nice apartment about half a mile away from their current home. The two moved to NY because they knew it accepted immigrants like them. America had its issues, but the neighborhood and the government were much better. There was support for immigrants, and the couple knew that although there may be racism and political issues, it would comparatively be much safer than living in Russia or going back to Bangladesh. Raising children in a country with one of the best education systems was another plus.
Of course, the idea of a better life starkly contrasts reality. Back in Russia, Mohammed’s business provided a good source of income, until he had to sell in order to move to the States. Upon moving, their source of income was very limited. With so many expenses, deciding to live in New York would prove to be financially straining and the two were frustrated with each other. Both were fluent in English, but the fast-paced tones of New Yorkers were enough to make their heads spin. What made the situation worse was that their first American apartment had no heating, and the cold winters of New York made them reconsider their decision. Their apartment in Moscow had stable heating even during the coldest nights.
The two learned to adjust. Mr. Islam eventually found work at an office, while Ferdous took it upon herself to take english classes to understand native speakers better. Once they had kids, the two moved to a new apartment, staying in the same neighborhood. Their eldest graduated from high school and is attending the Macaulay College of Hunter College, and their second is getting ready to apply to colleges within the next year or two. After many years, Ferdous and Mr. Islam learned to call Kensington their home while appreciating the education their kids are receiving.
Ferdous starts her day with her first of 4 cups of tea. She tidies up before going out to run errands around the neighborhood. She’s able to catch up with the other Bengali women on the street, and she makes small talk with the grocery store clerks.
“First when I came from Russia, I thought [New York] was a garbage. There was garbage everywhere. Compared to Russia, this is a much dirtier city.”
But, she still likes living in Kensington. It’s easy to commute to some of her favorite places in the city, like Herald Square in Manhattan, via train. Foods from different cultures are also readily accessible. With the numerous community events in Kensington, it is difficult for Ferdous to not enjoy herself at picnics or meetings of the Russian Bengali or the Dhaka University Associations.
She’s noticed that throughout the years, there has been an increase in the number of Bengali immigrants in the neighborhood. As a city for immigrants, she expects that this may change in the next several years. There are various personas living in the city, and each contribute a unique perspective of New York. The city has a lot to offer for people who come with very little, and as a multicultural city, there are different cultures one can learn about.
As Ferdous returns home to see her two children in their respective rooms relaxing after coming home from school, she thinks back to some of her earlier hardships. It was definitely more challenging when the she and her husband first arrived in New York, but things have things have improved significantly. There are still many burdens that the couple have to shoulder, like trying to buy a house, but for now, Ferdous is content.
Despite the initial hurdles, Ferdous and her husband have come to love their life in New York. They are appreciative of the schooling their children are receiving and they look forward to their future in New York. Ferdous finds that the safety and the sense of belonging that living in New York provides trumps any hurdles she and her husband had faced previously. They were able to inhabit a niche within Kensington’s community, and they don’t see themselves living anywhere else: “I don’t know why, but it’s a common belief that studying in the US will make smart kids. That’s why we threw everything good about our lives away and came here, without knowing what was in our futures. Of course I miss everything, even though I want to live here. Something that makes me feel more confident about why we are doing the right thing by living here is when I think about you guys.”
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