24 Apr 2023

Conversations with My Immigrant Parents | Season 3 | Episode 4: Mama Is More Stronger

From Conversations with My Immigrant Parents, 6:00 am on 24 April 2023

Tooba and her husband Habib chat with their teens about community and strength in Ōtautahi, a place that has been both a source of immense grief and love since they arrived in 2007 from Pakistan.

This episode contains discussion of the white supremacist terror attack of March 15th, 2019.

Habib, Tooba, and their children Fatima and Usman have lived through some of the darkest events in Ōtautahi’s history. The family moved from Pakistan in 2007, and have lived in Ōtautahi ever since. Habib works for the Ministry of Ethnic Communities and Tooba doesn’t formally have a job, though she does a great deal of work providing support to many members of her community. Fatima and Usman, despite being a year apart, are in the same year at high school.

After arriving in their new home town, the family moved around a number of times, living in rental houses all around Christchurch from their arrival up until 2021. According to Tooba, leaving one house and moving into the next was a test of strength: “The bad thing about moving houses was the inspections. They were giving us the dirtiest house and then we were cleaning and making it like new, and after three months, taking photos, even if there was one piece of grass growing, and they were saying, ‘You need to mow like this.’”

(L-R) Habib, Tooba, and Usman on the couch

(L-R) Habib, Tooba, and Usman on the couch Photo: Saraid de Silva & Julie Zhu

The 2011 earthquake was a crisis felt by the whole country, though the magnitude of it was hard to comprehend for anyone outside the city, and especially to those unfamiliar with what Ōtautahi pre-earthquake might have looked and felt like. But unfortunately, they were only the first of two major tragedies to be suffered in the same decade.

2019’s white supremacist terror attack at Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre was, in Tooba’s words, “the worst nightmare of our life.” The family describe realising the magnitude of the violence against their community more and more over the course of the day, as they learnt about what exactly had unfolded. Fatima says she started wearing her hijab after the attacks, and doesn’t think she would have done so if not for that, and Usman talks about his school facilitating more Muslim groups since the attacks. Tooba and Habib’s community work leveled up following the March 15th attacks, and remains an important aspect of family life.

Tooba is clear on what her community gives her in return: “For me, I think this kind of volunteer work, and doing something for someone, is giving me more energy and peace of mind and heart.”

Fatima often accompanies Tooba on her visits. At any hour of the day or night, they will be there for those who need support or someone to talk to, frequently staying with their friends late into the night. Though close in age, Fatima and Usman are very different: Usman enjoys sports and looks at strength as something physical, while Fatima sees her mother as the example of what it means to be a pillar for those around you.

This conversation between teenagers and their very-much-in-love parents covers different ideas of grief, community-building after tragedy, social mobility, and love.

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Julie Zhu and Saraid de Silva

Julie Zhu and Saraid de Silva Photo: UHZ Ltd

Conversations with My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.

Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer. Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a-first generation South Asian New Zealander.

Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.

| Twitter: @saraiddesilva@juliezhuu | Instagram: @convoswithmy | Facebook: whereareyoufromreally |

NZ On Air

NZ On Air Photo: NZOA