• Sadia Afrin

Who am I? A storyteller of power and prejudice

Being a South-Asian Muslim, Hijabi woman in my late 30s, when I sit in a University classroom at any of the North American countries, I wonder if anyone has thought of my journey to become who I am now in academia beyond my ethnicity or stereo-typical identity! The smiling faces around me appreciate my presence as a ‘brave’ woman to come across halfway around the world with a kid and husband to study abroad. I embody theories of diversity and inclusion or feminism to many. I have been asked many questions out of disbelief about the facts that I had chosen to wear hijab without my husband’s pressure when I got 33 or I go on a date on valentine’s day with my long-married husband. But mostly, I am doubted for my English as a second-language speaker and my knowledge sources from a third world country. I am currently a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo, Canada. Previously, I completed my M.Ed. majoring in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with a concentration on ‘English Education’ from the College of Education, University of Oklahoma (OU), U.S. However, I moved into Canada in 2018 due to Permanent Residency Visa requirements. After arrival here, I stayed focused to pursue my PhD and fulfill my dream of becoming a resourceful scholar and educationist in Higher Education. Yet, my foundation and education as a learner were from somewhere else.

I was born into a post-colonial country, Bangladesh, who (Bangladesh is personified as mother in our culture) was under the British rule for 200 years. The seeds of being superiors than ‘others,’ who are inferiors (Neimneh, 2013), to climb the social ladder by ‘education’ were planted in our society during that regime. These ‘others’ reside among our own people. English language is a key to rise above the ‘others,’ becoming the ‘elite.’ During my childhood and elementary education in an American school in Saudi Arabia, my visits to Bangladesh introduced me to this status quo through the praises and recognitions of family and society only because of my English skills. However, growing up in a multi-cultural community abroad, I learned English just as a ‘language’ beside Arabic, Hindi, and Urdu to communicate with the world I lived in. I mostly enjoyed writing in English feeling ‘powerful’ to express myself in another language outside Bangla (my mother language). The English word choices I made to portray the intensity and vision of my statement based on exclusive Bangla words/concepts; the certainty I felt to be ‘heard’ through the ‘medium of communication;’ the fruitless, grammar-based learning of English; the anguish of not being recognized as ‘talented’ without the skill in English; and many other experiences made my own identity complex over time. As I grew up, I often asked myself: why are English language, literature, and culture idolized as the gateway for prosperity and associated with intellectual ‘human’ identity?

Eventually, I studied English language and Literature during my B.A and M.A in Bangladesh to find a recognizable platform to study Arts opposed to Science though I graduated High School with all math and science subjects. However, the curriculum and lectures opted to glamourize the ‘wealth’ of English literature only. They did not show a connection with me and my culture to initiate a dialogue on those differences to take directions that were our own. I read English literature or saw a movie in English not to assimilate with the distant elite culture, but to detect the hidden concepts, mish mashed under the over-arching themes, such as neocolonialism (Kabir, 2013). Any plot, symbol, character, dialogue, scene, or any connotation of a word in English literatur