Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cultural woes for American raised girls

Yesterday my father-in-law went on a panting rage about how no one was giving him the food he wanted, God forbid.

At first I thought he was talking to no one in particular, so I stayed away. Then I heard him get louder and more specific.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law sat in the kitchen with blank faces. My sister-in-law looked displeased. I cringed.

What is it about Bangladeshi men who cannot bear to not get what they want - even if it's not good for them?
What is about the Bangladeshi culture that men are often favored over women, from the kids to the parents.
Why do women have to serve everyone before eating, even if they are starving?
Why do men have to get the better share of food?
Why do men always demand things?
Why is there a secret code language to read minds hearts and souls?
Why do women believe if they don't do as their husbands say, or give them what they want (want to eat for) the husbands will curse them to doom before their deaths?
Why is the culture full of doing things for others, ignoring your own health and needs (often times), and putting less emphasis on taking care of oneself and your own actions?

This is my experience of the Bangladeshi culture.

I was raised by liberal parents who did not expect everything to be culturally packaged. For example, I did not have to serve my father all the time, nor wake up early to feed everyone, cook or clean after everyone etc.

In my in-laws house it is expected, even if you don't do it all the time.

There is a huge emphasis on taking care of the parents. I find it a struggle to understand:
1. What they want
2. What they are thinking
3. How to go about something
4. Going out of my way to do something without showing off and doing it for the sake of reward
5. Putting their priorities over yourself
6. Having to over explain things
7. Remaining silent when you want to say something - for good or bad
8. When or when not do something
9. Waiting around for a response to something you're unclear on. Being met with silence.
10. When to step your foot in, raise your concerns, look the other way.

Thank goodness there are some basic Islamic guidelines to follow: from treating others with respect, to taking care of the elderly and doing things for the sake of good deeds.

He will put your deeds into a right state for you, and forgive you your faults; andwhoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, he indeed achieves a mighty success. (33:71) 

As an American raised child, I struggled with my own parents when it came to explaining and understanding the give-and-take rule on respect, being clear with one another, expressing feelings rather than mind-reading.

Last weekend I attended a workshop on how to spread the word about Islam and I learned from a conflict resolution segment that communication is translated differently in cultural settings: American individualistic society vs. Bangladeshi group mentality.

Which means, Americans are more likely to say things directly and are more open to personal space, while group thinkers expect you to read each others minds and say things indirectly, as well as be less keen to giving people personal space.

Neither is good or bad, but as the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said, take what is good from your cultures which adheres with the teachings of Islam.

For American raised girls living in cultural homes, it is about finding the right balance to live up to God's laws and commandments.

And those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah - Islamic Monotheism) and dorighteous good deeds, they are dwellers of Paradise, they will dwell therein forever. (2:82)