Forest Hills Central High School
“Land of the Brave”
As a Bengali-American, I find myself eternally bound to the hyphen.
I fall somewhere between being Bengali and American. I am the definition of a hyphenated, hybrid identity. I hold the keys to the kind of duplicity that is born only at the intersection of two distinct cultures.
As a Bengali-American, my identity moves with me.
It began in the villages of a tiny country situated in the heart of South Asia, where my great-grandparents first met, surrounded by towering banyan trees and the aroma of panch pharon spices. The reverberation of the village women’s anklets follow my identity as it continues to travel down weathered roads, cluttered with rickshaws and farmers with their cattle, to the coastal hamlets along the Bay of Bengal. From there, it is brought into the bustling city of Dhaka with loving hands, getting accustomed to all the chatters, squeaks, squalls, honks, bitter laughter, whistles, the intermingling of a million voices into one harmonious tune.
I come from the verses of Tagore and the millennium-old history of Bengali literature. I come from the Meghna and Padma rivers with the fishermen crouched in their boats, catching hilsa which are fat with spawn. I come from the mangrove trees that grow thick in the Sundarbans, hiding the royal Bengal tigers within. I come from enraged monsoons, pastel skies and the rhythm of folk songs on moonlit nights.
I am from Bangladesh, land of the brave.
My country’s history is tainted with blood and violence, with civil disobedience and satyagraha, reaching as far back to the era of the Bengal Subah under the Mughal Empire to the massive protests of the Bengali Language Movement to the partition of India, disestablishment of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.
We are not known to give up; instead, we fight for what we believe is right.
To have courage is to acknowledge the presence of fear and continue to ignore its existence- even in the face of adversity. It means to not only stand up for ourselves, but for others around us. To risk everything, knowing it could all fail, just to attempt reaching that infinitesimal chance of success.
However, courage cannot be described with a single metaphor in a string of stanzas. I know this. I have seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears and felt it with my own hands.
I find courage in the tales my grandmother tells me of the millions of men and women who protested and fought for the right to speak their own language in Bangladesh. I find courage in the hearts of my grandparents who started their own business to help the poor, securing homes for them and sending their children to school. I find courage in the strength my grandfather displayed while strenuously battling cancer, as though he was in no pain at all. I find courage in the journey my own parents took to the United States, leaving everything they owned in search of a better life for their family.
These are the stories that bring me here today – all these wayward crossroads intersecting each other to end where I stand. These are my quintessential stories of courage.
To be Bengali means to have chaos in our bones and storms in our eyes. We are the epitome of courage. We do not lure ourselves in with the promise of something beautiful; rather, we find what makes us fierce and we nurture this feeling to pass down to future generations.
We dream of the impossible, the atrocious, the unforgiving.
I am living the dreams that my ancestors only ever dreamt of. I wear their acts of courage proudly, stemming from several generations before me, hoping to add some of my own one day. I speak a language that almost ceased to exist simply because of animosity. I was taught to grow flowers from the shadows and wear them in my hair.
My roots have sunk deep into the fertile grounds of Bangladesh, so that every part of its story becomes a part of mine.