July 15, 1983, after 36 hours of labor my mother delivered me in Worcester, Massachusetts. That is a long time to be in labor, especially without C-section. The young doctor, who had just finished his residency, said my heart was strong and I was going to come out healthy. My mother tells me this was more than an assessment of my physical capability, but also of my personality. I am a fighter.
My name was already chosen, Mubassar Adnan Oliva Khan is what is on my birth certificate. I like to think this was an announcement to the world. My Bangladeshi grandfather named me. Mubassar meaning – Bringer of good news, a prophet, Adnan – one who is settled, pleasure, and Oliva – to represent my French Canadian heritage, which means olive. My last name is Khan – meaning leader, a king, or a prince. When I was young I embraced it as prince. Prince happened to be my nickname as a child too thanks to the story La Petite Prince that my mother read to me as a child.
These names to me were a proclamation of a future prophet, a philosopher, and a sensitive cat that had it written in his destiny to change the world. That’s how I managed to cope with the jumble of unpronounceable words that made up my name, as other kids made fun of me. Childhood is interesting like that. As jovial and understanding as children can be, they also quickly become a reflection of their parents’ ethnocentric principles.
Growing up in the 80’s, I was different.
My father came from the young country of Bangladesh, 7 years shortly after their liberation from Pakistan to further his education. He fell in-love with my mother, an artist major from a small town in northern Massachusetts.
I was a black haired, dark eyed, and light skinned mutt, yes that’s what us mixed kids are called, just like dogs of a mixed litter.
I remember being in kindergarten when a classmate of mind decided to make an observation of my identity. He said, “Why is your mom WHITE and your dad BLACK?” He was off, to be politically correct my dad is BROWN! Good question, Inever noticed. Was it my innocence or was it the color of my parents skin was very apparent to everyone else? I had never noticed. To me they were my parents and I had never seen a difference.
This shook my world! At that moment I realized I was different. When I went for playtime at my classmates homes I started to notice their parents were the same COLOR. Heck even when I visited my mother’s family everyone was WHITE. When my family came from Bangladesh I noticed, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, were BROWN! My world was never the same.
Things started to make more sense after this great revelation by the 5 year old that had shattered my colorblindness. I attended a predominantly Pakistani and Arab madrasa, at a mosque housed in what used to be an antique church. At just 3 years old, I remember agonizing Saturday nights, knowing I would have to wake up for “Sunday School.” Not because I necessarily hated learning about Islam, but treatment I received was brutal.
Rewind back in history to 1971 when Bangladesh won its’ independence from Pakistan, there evidently was and is to this day a lot of bad sentiment. So much that my young peers of Pakistani and Arab descent were fully aware of the hate that their parents held towards my Bangladeshi heritage. Let alone the children, even the madrasa teachers seemed to be bitter..
I remember showing up for lessons. I was always early. The first one sitting in the classroom; even before the teacher. My dad is a unique Bangladeshi; he is one of the few that cherish British lessons from colonial times. He believed in punctuality.
That unfortunately gave me many Sundays of alone time with my teachers, who explained that my breed belonged to sinners. Especially because my mother is a WHITE American Muslim convert.
This is also when I learned what it meant to be two-faced. Bless my parents; they were never aware of the mockery that was uttered to me from our community, at least they never admitted to me to being aware of it.
Outside the mosque there were many occasions where my family and I were removed from places of business. When I was 6 my father had taken me to the bank to withdraw money. He explained to me that we were going to use this money to buy some couches that my mother wanted.
We went home and picked up my mother, along with my younger sister and infant brother and Made the trip to the furniture store, we were all excited because new furniture is exciting when you are a child.
My father had started his journey of success with his career as a mechanical engineer and was ready to part with the furniture of a young married couple into some nice ass antique couches for their living room. My parents had an idea of what they already wanted when we entered the store as they instantly gravitated towards a set of Victorian shaped chairs. They were the nice pieces of furniture that I knew I would get a whipping if I decided to jump all over them.
A sales representative approached my parents. There was a discussion. Then another individual came, I believe the manager. Before I knew it he yelled at us. He said, “get the hell out of here, I’m not selling you anything.”
I was not naïve to what happened. My siblings and I were proof of my parents union, a disgrace in his eyes.
Who I am, due to my ethnic make up, makes me inferior in the eyes of some people.
As I grew, so did my hue, I got a little darker, my nose got sharper, and I started to resemble my father. I am known as NON-WHITE, COLORED, BROWN, MIXED or AMBIGUOUS OTHER.