Samreena is born in Karachi, Pakistan and descended from Hyderabadi Muhajirs. She discovered Legacies from a Facebook group.
Below are the responses of Samreena Farooqui’s interview with Legacies Staff:
Is this your first publication? If not, what are some other projects/works you’ve done?
I’ve published some things in the past, but they haven’t been creative nonfiction. They’ve been more along the lines of social analysis or expository works. I suppose this was also somewhat expository, though
How did you get into illustrating or writing?
I don’t really remember how I got into writing, to be totally honest. It just kind of crept up on me.
What inspired you to contribute to the project? (Why did you want to contribute to this project?)
I write a lot, but it’s always informal and private, and I guess I talk about enough things that enough people don’t know about or haven’t considered, so I’ve had a lot of people pushing me to publish something, anything. I’d only entertained the idea of writing for publishing purposes very loosely in the past, mainly because I have been afraid of constraints, but this is a postmodern, post-Trump, meme world we live in now. I thought this would be a good place to try my hand at more creative endeavors, and the subject matter was perfect.
How would you describe, or summarize, your submission?
Levels of alienation. There’s the existential alienation people talk about, when they’re talking about white man existentialism or whatever. And then there’s the essential alienation. If existence precedes essence, but you can’t escape alienation in either, what does that make you?
What was the hardest things to write/draw about? (I.e. revisiting a trauma, self-realization, etc.) In other words, did you struggle to write/draw a certain aspect?
Well, I wrote about lynching and mass murder and drone strikes, among other things, which did dredge up my own personal traumas, which I didn’t really write about. But this is the kind of thing I (and other people like me) are basically swimming in, day in and day out. It doesn’t really get easier, but you do develop systems (social, psychological, etc) for dealing with it, to varying success.
Why did you choose to write/illustrate your specific submission? (What was the significance of your submission?)
The feeling of being unknowable, a perpetual alien, is constant for me, sometimes despite my best efforts (although you learn to both hone and abandon your efforts). I usually have to be very patient with people and basically give them step-by-step insights on what the world is like for me, because they have trouble imagining. A lot of it is because I suppose I’m stuck between several worlds, so there isn’t any one place I can go to in order to be understood. I frequently find that there are significant limits to empathy and imagination when people are faced with a person like me, and that’s frustrating, but you also have very few places to vent your frustration, not least because if that frustration goes uncomprehended, then that only compounds the frustration. So you have to have a lot of patience not just with other people, but with your own self. With that sitting on my head all day every day, it was the first thing my brain issued when I started rummaging around for this.
What, in your opinion, were setbacks you had to face, if any, and why? (I.e. time, memory, self-righteousness, etc.)
The biggest obstacle would be developing my ability to describe my experiences and observations, to anticipate what I may need to explain further. There’s just so much that can get muddled if I am not incredibly incisive, if I am not almost a prescient ghost and able to put myself into the future minds of other people who are very different from me in order to figure out what they are likely to misunderstand and get to those misunderstandings to solve them before they happen.
And of course, sometimes I know there will be people who will misunderstand something, and I will have to make the difficult but conscious decision to leave the wording as it is, because if I change it, I will end up overexplaining and utterly ruin the thing. It will become something I am not controlling anymore, not something truly issued from myself, when it becomes centered on what is missing from other people’s understanding instead of what is present in my own.
Was there anything you couldn’t address in your submission? If so, what were they?
For the first piece, I focused a lot on racial ambiguity and how far away South Asians are from most people’s minds here in the US. I do want to say the experience described is not necessarily applicable for every South Asian person in the US, although it’s certainly not uncommon.
What were the most important things you wanted to hit on in your submission? (What did you want to highlight?)
I think the thing to highlight would be the experience of a minority within a minority (within a minority within a minority and so on). There’s been work done on subalternity, notably within the South Asian context, and the contradictions and double (or triple, even quadruple) binds therein. That’s ultimately what it is about. But that work has largely been about material conditions, social status, and the like. It’s been mostly sociological. This is more about the internal experience of this, of coming to feel unintelligible and obscured.
What do you hope readers/people will gain from reading/seeing your work? (What do you want people to take away from your work?)
A wider understanding of the complexity of people, maybe. Hopefully.
What is your definition of being AsAm, if you have one?
At least one of your ancestors hails from a country we contemporarily recognize as Asia. That being said, I don’t believe demographic terms have static definitions, because what is Asia, really? I’ve also found that a pan-Asian identity doesn’t even truly exist outside of the political contexts where it needs to exist in order to serve as an oppositional grouping (to gather up some solidarity to push back against white supremacy, for example).
What does writing/illustrating for this anthology mean to you?
On the most personal level, I’ve historically had a difficult time finishing writing projects I start, so I was looking for more structure, which anthology efforts are very good at providing. But even besides that, I think there’s an incredible dearth of diverse narratives in the US/West where Asians, and particularly South Asians, are concerned, which is honestly a bit alarming, considering how big Asia is and the sheer range of experiences that can fall under “Asian”. A lot of my writing is and has been about exactly these intersections and black holes of identity that effectively go unexamined at large, or take a backseat to other identities that are, for whatever reason, used as maps that these “black hole” identities are superimposed onto, as if they don’t have their own maps and meanings.
What food/drink most reminds you of home/childhood? Why do you think food is so important to Asian American culture?
Falooda. It’s one of those drinks that is super popular where I’m from, but bizarre and niche enough back in the States that it hasn’t been co-opted as some sort of Exotic/Cultured Status marker, which is nice. It does make it a bit more difficult to find commercially, but it’s easy enough to make yourself, so I don’t mind.
To be honest, it irks me sometimes how fixated on food the discourse around Asians in the US is. I know a huge part of it is that it has historically been one of the most public-facing aspects of Asianness in the US/West, and therefore, it’s had the most exposure to stigma and opportunity to be stigmatized. Many of us have gotten bullied for simply eating our own food, only to later find it valued for making white people feel interesting and adventurous for having consumed it.
That being said, I think this fixation often serves to push out discussion of other issues, and to further marginalize populations within Asian-American communities that are less visible. During college, it was a constant frustration to me that narratives about the things Asians have to deal with centered on the most privileged among us, resulting in basically all the discourse being about food stigma or representation in media, when there are so many Asians living in poverty within the US, being trafficked and trapped, being specifically targeted for sexual assault/harassment as a result of hypersexualization, being subjected to hate crimes as a result of their visible religious/cultural markers or skin, being gentrified out of their homes, or being subjected to heightened domestic violence as a result of not speaking English and therefore having no way of escaping their abusive situations. No one ever talked about the fact that South Asian women in the US have a suicide rate that is higher than the average suicide rate in the US at large, for example. We avoid talking about the fractures within this coalitional community and just talk about food. It was exhausting seeing all the events at the Asian American Student Union just being about (very specific genres of) food, soul-killing to see people show up to these events in droves and leave only with a performance of generosity and abundance. I have begun to think this fixation is in large part about the fact that our food is most of what the culture we live in values about us. Or maybe it’s that the most vulnerable among us don’t have access to their own pages and audiences. I know Muslims/Muslim-adjacent people are frequently considered distinctly non-Asian for simply being affiliated with Muslims, for example – we get excised from the Asian canon regularly, often with real-world violence. Or maybe it’s that we avoid truly facing our traumas and histories, and food is the way out. But that is not sustainable, nor is it honest.
I don’t mean to position this as an either/or dynamic, because *of course* people can talk about and focus on more than one thing at a time, but in this case, I do feel talking about food incessantly takes up a lot of air from all these other things that are literally killing people in the background. It all serves as a reminder to me that the things that significantly affect some subgroups of Asians, groups that I belong to, are not considered Truly Asian experiences or worthy of discussion within pan-Asian communities, so talking about food does not give me the same comfort or provide me the same outlet that it seems to do for other Asians. And I know I am not alone in feeling this way.
There have been times when I have sat down to write about being Asian, and wanted so terribly to write about food (because that is what so much Asian writing is about, and I’m Asian – aren’t I?) and found it difficult to try to pluck the usual sensory words from between the vignettes of ever-present violence flashing across the panorama of my mind.