I’m lucky because I’ve always had my mum. My constant, my pillar, my strength.
It always seems to work out so differently on television. I suppose the reason I’m so attached to Gilmore Girls or why I sobbed so vehemently whilst watching Brave, is because the one person in my life who has always been a constant for me is my mum. When you have someone who genuinely always has your back, it feels as though you can do anything.
My mum is who I’ve been celebrating this Women’s History Month, and I will celebrate her for every month to come. When I was a kid going to school, I would get a lot of racial slurs from my classmates. I’d even get ones that weren’t meant for my brown skin, as if they were just throwing anything out there, hoping it would stick. And it did. I didn’t fit in, but I tried. No ‘ethnic’ clothes. No henna. Not uttering a single word in my mother tongue. Behind my back I’m sure people thought I was a ‘coconut‘ or whitewashing myself, but I’d just call it survival.
I’m lucky because I’ve always had my mum. My constant, my pillar, my strength. Before getting married, my mum lived quite a sheltered life. So when she had me, we experienced the throes of life together. We even shared an emo phase by getting multiple piercings and blasting teen angst songs in the car.
“She would tell me, “it’s not about them, it’s about you” – the same thing I got to tell her years later.”
My mum dyed my hair black and red, let me wear the clothes I wanted, but she absolutely refused to let me have the iconic raccoon-tail scene kid hair, to which I am eternally grateful for. She supported me in getting my degree, something my Pakistani community didn’t always consider to be a worthwhile option. She would tell me, “it’s not about them, it’s about you” – the same thing I got to tell her years later when she thought she was too old to get her master’s degree.
Life is very finicky. Little moments will end up changing you completely as a person. I grew up quiet, shy, and I went out of my way to take up as little space as possible. The more slurs were hurled my way, the more I tried to hide behind the silence.
However, one summer’s day during the school holidays, my siblings and I were playing outside as we often did before the age of social media and likes. The area I lived in was small, in the way that every neighbour knew of the other, so we were very aware of where the racist houses were so we could avoid them as best we could.
This day was different. An older boy from down the street came out to harass us, calling us whatever slurs he could think of. But we did nothing. I just stood there, frozen and unsure of what to do. He kept going, laughing as if there was some hilarious joke that no one else was getting.
“My mum defended her brown babies without a second thought because of something I learned only in that moment: we deserved to take up space.”
My mum always kept the windows open, so she could hear us and check in on us every so often. On this day, she must have heard this boy’s grand speeches, drenched with racism, because she was out of the house in a flash. Not a single second of hesitation. She was in his face demanding why he was talking to us like that.
Of course, he just started laughing but then the air shifted. He picked up a brick and held it up to her face, threatening to smash it down on her. Every single one of us froze, unable to move out of fear of what would happen next. Panic set into every bone in my body, preparing to see something that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
But that moment never came. My mum showed not one ounce of fear. Instead, she was angry and firmly stood her ground. In fact, she took a step closer to him to show him just how serious she was. He looked her dead in the eye, something he had never done to any of us before as he didn’t deem us worthy. But that day, he was seeing her.
She was taking up space as she had taught us to do our entire lives. She told him he wasn’t ever going to use that language again, and that we deserved to live there as much as anyone else. My mum defended her brown babies without a second thought because of something I learned only in that moment: we deserved to take up space. We deserved to be there. Our feelings were valid.
“My mum and I have held each other up my entire life. We’ve talked, we’ve laughed, and we’ve cried together.”
From this moment onwards, I became someone who stood up for myself, went to therapy, and worked hard to be my most authentic self, whilst not erasing my Pakistani side.
My mum and I have held each other up my entire life. We’ve talked, we’ve laughed, and we’ve cried together. She really is and always has been my best friend. Having a mum like this has taught me that, as women, we desperately need each other. As much as my mum has been there for me and fought for me, I’ve tried to do the same for her.
She taught me the importance of standing up for myself as a woman, whether that be marrying who I want, wearing what I want, or loudly using my voice. She taught me the value of standing up for my right to merely exist.
The struggles of trying to navigate this world are made a lot easier knowing that I have someone like my mum standing by my side. She is a bright light in an otherwise terrifying world, and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without her. Because with her, I’m the strong independent woman I know I can be, and for that I will be forever grateful.