Cultural Autobiography

My name is Jasmin Zaman and I am a 26-year-old going on to be a 27-year-old female (T-minus 5 days) of Filipino and Bangladeshi origins. My background is a blend of culture and beliefs: I was born Catholic, having been baptized as a child as a result of my mother’s Catholic background. However, she later converted to Islam while my older brother and I were still young; hence we did too. Growing up, I learned both Tagalog and English as my native tongue, and when my family moved to Bangladesh, I learned to speak Bangla as well. In the United States, I would go on to take Spanish in school for several years and adopt a fourth language.  I consider myself part of a middle-income family; my parents are still married and living together. Consequently, the idea of a family unit is one that is very important to me. Growing up in an immigrant-Asian household the value of education was a top priority and the expectation is that the family raises the children until they are married, then, the children have the responsibility of returning the favor and have to take care of their elderly parents in return.

Culture and values have been exposed to me both in school and from my interactions with the world. From living in a third world country where everyone spoke the same language and practiced the same religion to a melting pot of people who coexist albeit their culture and beliefs is beyond fascinating to me. Hailing from a fairly religious family background, I grew up heterosexual while misconstruing homosexuality, as the idea of being something “different” was shunned upon. I was also made to believe that “white” is powerful. Often times, Filipinos will be found bleaching their skins to be more light-skinned. Actors in tv shows were all light-skinned and this seemed to be omnipresent in the Asian world. Even in Bangladesh, I learned that many of the women used products called “fair and lovely” to also try to brighten their brown skins.

I never understood the value of being a white person until I came to the United States. Let alone, a white man. I would later find out that with all of the political undercurrents, with Donald Trump as the president, racism towards minorities is still omnipresent. White males would take on more powerful roles in most industries while minorities and females were subjugated to more submissive ones with little room for growth. It is to no surprise that Filipino women, just like my mother, are found to be nurses with their caring and nurturing manners. My mother encouraged me tenfold to consider nursing as a profession because as a woman it would teach me not only to understand how my body functions, but to be able to take care of others, and most importantly how to raise children. So, I only continue to be part of the minority – a Brown, Muslim, woman.

I consider myself a product of the NYC public school system. I immigrated here from Bangladesh when I was eight years old. I grew up in the Bronx, went to high school in Brooklyn, and lived in Manhattan for a few years when I attended nursing school. Currently, I live with my parents in the Bronx. My first job was a teacher’s assistant in the specialized high school admission test (SHSAT) program, to help students of the public-school system get admission to a competitive, elite specialized high schools in NYC – such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. My first job as a nurse was at the Mount Sinai Hospital, providing care to a plethora of patients from the underserved populations of Spanish Harlem and Harlem to the wealthy Upper East-Siders. I am grateful to have grown up in New York City, where all walks of life have learned to thrive with one another – or so I thought.

Living in the Bronx, news of shootings, stabbings, and gang violence is common. However, the recent news of the death of an innocent boy named Junior left me in shambles: a 15-year old approached by five young men armed in machete and kitchen knives would drag him out of the neighborhood deli and take turns ramming their knives into him. How was nobody able to help this boy? Why did Junior have to walk to the hospital and bleed out to death as people stared at him walk by? Have we, as a society, become desensitized to all that makes us human? I have to admit that with the presence of crime in my borough often as a result Black or Hispanic assailant, has left me cautious and undeniably afraid whenever I walk past one. However, being a girl with ethnically ambiguous looks walking in the streets of the Bronx often calls for unwarranted attention and getting cat-called by a group of ANY men is a norm. To say the least, these experiences have allowed me to remain hypervigilant of my surroundings and maintain a sense of “street smarts.”

On a more positive note, I love to travel and explore the world. Some of my favorite places typically include sun and beaches like Greece and sunny California. I love to learn from my experiences, not only during a pursuit of fun but while helping others in need. I was part of a three- week Habitat for Humanity mission to help build houses for those who lost their homes in riverbanks of Pasig City, Philippines after a devastating storm in 2011.  It was a humbling experience to help these people who genuinely seemed so happy with having so little in their lives. Travelling has allowed me to keep an open mind and embrace differences people may have. My interactions with so many walks of life have defined me as the person I am today.

What was the most important moment of my life? I would say starting this CRNA journey. I think this was a pivotal point as this is when all of my worlds would collide – nursing, love for others, and the idea of helping people abroad with my medical knowledge. It is actually a dream come true. As a nurse anesthetist, I am excited to use my experiences to understand patients on a cultural and personal level, in order to tailor their care appropriately. As someone who loves to be in control of every situation, I am excited to be their vigilant guardian angel.

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