by Faima Quadir
Qadr(قَادِر) – power; one of the 100 names of God in Islam, meaning “Almighty.”
I went to preschool in the basement of a church in suburban New Jersey. I did not realize it at the time, but in hindsight the room with stained glass windows and columns of benches was definitely a tell. I was the only brown girl there and definitely the only Muslim. It was not a religious preschool. We learned the usual things, learned counting and reading. We learned that the letter combination QUA made the kwa sound. Like in quack, or quad. Or like Quadir. And so I became Faima “kwad-eer.” This simple English lesson would completely redirect how I view myself for the rest of my life. What started as a way to help teachers locate my last name on a roster soon defined who I am. I began introducing myself as Faima “kwadeer” everywhere I went, even to other Bengali people. I had fully convinced myself this was my name. It was not until very recently, at the age of 20, that I realized: this is not my name.
As much as I wish I could say this experience is unique to me, it is not uncommon for people with non-European names to not know how to pronounce their names. When asked how to pronounce their name, I have heard many South Asian people respond “I don’t really know.” Or worse, “You can say it however you want.” I have heard many guttural ao’s transform into nasal a’s and long ee’s into quick i’s. I cannot count the number of times I have let out a sigh of defeat and said, “sure” after listening to a half-hearted attempt to pronounce my name. Having relived this scenario time and time again, it is clear that my role is never to be comfortable, only to make other people comfortable.
Most of the people I went to high school with would describe me as a quiet person. While this is not entirely wrong, hearing my peers make terrorist jokes in the hallways did not exactly entice me to come out of my shell. But it was not just them. Students who would laugh with me over our shared inability to roll our Spanish r’s would later that day in history class insist that Muslims should not be able to purchase guns. I learned to watch what I said around everyone. I was quiet when my class agreed it was selfish of immigrants to want equal rights when America has already given them so much. And I was quiet when they insisted Islam opresses women. I thought it better to let the moment pass than to create a disruption. The moment never passed, because it was not a moment. It was a mentality. I had fallen into the trap of trying to be the model minority. I was not keeping the peace, I was protecting their peace and in doing so, I stripped myself of a right as basic as the right to be called by my own name. While I was so worried about pleasing other people to avoid conflict, I was never able to make a home for myself. This hurts even more when I think about the meaning of my last name. Power. My ancestors graced me with one of the one hundred names of Allah and I let people step on it. And for what? I share a name with God and I do not even have the pride to make people say it correctly.
Even now, part of me still has reservations about switching to the authentic pronunciation of my name, “kau-dher.” After twenty years of letting people disrespect such a historically significant name, am I still worthy of it? Have I strayed so far from my ancestors that I do not deserve to identify with them? My grandmother takes notice when I do something as simple as eating pasta for dinner instead of chicken and rice. “American,” she says to me as if she’s labelling inventory to be stocked, “not Bengali.” So if I am too American for my Bengali household and too Bengali for my American school, where do I fit?
I do not fit anywhere. I am not a piece of inventory to be categorized. My name does not decide who I am because my name is nothing without me. Faima Quadir is someone who puts her tikiya kebabs on a ciabatta roll and eats it like a burger but also rips her pancakes apart and eats them like roti. Faima Quadir is a Bangladeshi-American whose two cultural identities should be able to coexist without fighting for power. I am someone my ancestors would be proud to call their own.