1992 | Calcutta, India | Age: 29

When I came to America I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get spices, so I brought this. I cooked a lot, and I’d grind cumin like this.

My mother was only 30 years old when she died. I was 6, and my younger brother was a few months old. In India we lived in joined families - my grandmother, my auntie, everyone helped. And we did well. My eldest sister earned a Master’s in Psychology and is in London now. My younger brother is a doctor in Calcutta.

I studied Economics and finished Calcutta University with honors in Political Science. We came here in 1992 with our two small boys, and our daughter was born here. One son became an NYPD officer and the other an FDNY firefighter. They still speak Bengali; it’s helpful to have an extra language in their line of work.

For 14 years my job was raising our children. We didn’t have much money, so I couldn’t have a babysitter. I did everything myself and my husband worked. When my daughter started school, someone suggested I take a learning leadership course. I thought, “Why am I just sitting here? Why not?” Within one week I had my certificate. Then my son said, “Mommy, I want to help you apply to jobs.” One day, the pre-school called and asked if I had any credentials, and they hired me. It was my first job, and I’ve been working there for 10 years now.

When I married I was 23 years old. The wedding was done at home. At that time, my husband was working in Germany. He came back to India to marry me, and after we got married, we lived in Bangladesh. I’m Indian-Bengali.

Our fathers had been friends, and they had arranged our marriage. My father said to me, “He is a good boy. Do you want to marry him?” I said, “Of course. If you say it’s time for me to marry, I’m ok with it.” My husband saw my picture and agreed too. These pictures are from the first time we saw each other in person, at our wedding. I wasn’t scared. I trusted my dad. It seemed natural. Now things are different. My son met his wife on the internet. And that’s fine! It’s good that they are choosing for themselves. I wouldn’t know what to do!

When we came here, my eldest son’s teacher wrote that he needed to have a folder. I didn’t know what that was. So I went to her and explained that having just come from India, I knew nothing! What is a folder? She was glad that I asked for help, and she showed me everything. All the teachers were helpful. My sons went to specialized schools and were very good students. I remember one of them had to write an essay about his country, so I said, “Ok, I’ll tell you in Bengali and you’ll translate into English.” The last line we wrote was, “...and still my India is calling me.” He got the best award for that essay.

Eventually, I want to go on the hajj. We believe that God lets you know when the time is right. When I come back I will give up my job and keep myself covered. Men outside my family can't see me, so I will wear a burqa. It's a very personal choice. It comes from the heart. I would want to follow the Quran strictly. Others don't have to. My friend went and still works and wears a hijab only. But God understands necessity.

Cireen + Lara

Cireen + Lara