My Chosen Words: Memories of a Professional Immigrant Woman (Author Interview)

April 23, 2020

These questions take me back many decades - to be exact 3 decades. The idea of writing about my 'Life-Experiences,' as a visible minority woman, mother;including my journey to becoming a scientist. It was proposed by a few women's groups in 1987 summer. I was completing my contract on Fingerprint Research at that time.

I was confused with this proposition. I did not have the skills of the writer. I had no experience to write on non-scientific themes. So, my language of communication was definitely technical...

Soon, I gave serious thoughts to explore the whys of this request... The title of the book as suggested was - "My Identity in the Canadian Multicultural Society," Ferial I. Haque, Ph.D.

I asked myself a few questions “What were my dreams? When I left My Birthplace in September 1963. I was brave enough to discover the unknown way of life in another city in another country.”

I did not know I would be lost in the cultural maze of other people. The world in 1963 and world in 2020 are so different? We were not blessed with digital technology. So, I found my way to create a new me in my early twenties in Ottawa.

Being in isolation to escape the deadly attack of the COVID 19 is so different because of the blessing of the digital gifts of science. We are united together by telephone, e-mail, Zoom, Skype and more…

I ask myself again: “Have I learned any lessons?” Yes, I say! I have learned how to survive alone like ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ in the blizzards, Freezing rain, white snow-covered city of Ottawa, in 1963. I did experience the joys of being blessed with motherhood although the journey was rough.  

Tell your readers a little about yourself,
where you grew up:
I grew up in the capital of East Pakistan – Dacca. I cherish many sweet memories of my childhood at school, high school and university days in Dacca until 1963, these will remain ever fresh in my mind…
My birthplace is Chittagong, in East Bengal, British India. East Bengal has gone through a few political changes – became an independent country - East Pakistan on August 14, 1947. Then it became an independent nation Known as Bangladesh on December 16, 1971. where you live now,
I live in my home in the nation’s capital Ottawa, Canada. The birth place of my two daughters.
My fear of surviving the war for the birth of a new country Bangladesh was not a pleasant one. So! In search for a new beginning I decided to migrate to Ottawa, Canada on July 1972, with my husband and daughter…

Again, under the care of Canadian government but on a different agreement as an immigrant. With time I discovered the feeling of living in the community of poverty. I felt my circumstances could be well narrated under the title “From Riches to Rags.”But! I did not settle to spend the remaining thirty years of my life in poverty where you went to school etc.
My basic education in school, high school and university education was in Dacca, capital of East Pakistan. In 1963I graduated with a B.Sc. Honors degree in Chemistry, from the University of Dacca, Dacca, East Pakistan.

I was fortunate to experience the way of life in London, England after WWII during the period 1950-52. My two sisters and I accompanied our mother to London, England in 1950. She was a student in the Masters’ program in Philosophy at the University of London, University College, England for two years. We studiedat the Strand on The Green School in Chiswick, London. My experiences of learning at school and from our friends how the people in England adopted a new life style to build a new generation,is still fascinates me today…

I pursued my graduate studies in chemistry at the University od Carleton, Ottawa, Canada in the sixties. I completed my Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in 1970 from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.

Let them get to know the personal you.
My life as an immigrant professional woman began in July 1972, in Ottawa, Canada.At that time research in Chemistry was difficult to find inCanada, specially for an immigrant woman. So, I worked to earn a living. I decided to be a member of non-profit women’s groups to learn the way of life in Ottawa.

The idea of writing about my 'Life-Experiences,' as a visible minority woman, mother, including my pioneering journey to become a scientist was proposed by a few women's groups in 1987 summer. I was completing my contract on Fingerprint Research.

To publish the proposed book narrating my journey as an immigrant woman, it would be difficult to get the funding. Consequently, I proceeded to continue with my work. It became my project to learn the skills to publish this book to promote the unique journey of a professional immigrant woman.

What inspired you to author this book?
I was inspiredby my curiosity to find meaning of the suggested title ‘My Identity in the CanadianMosaic.’ Then Ibegan searching for ways learn the skills of a writer. Finally, in the late eighties decided to enroll into writing courses in the US offered by correspondence. I fulfilled the requirement to qualify to enroll atLongRidgeWritersGroup, West Redding, Connecticut, U.S. for a diploma.

Soon, I found my instructors were very encouraging and helped me find my inner love for research. I set up a small study table in the basement to write and work from home. My husband was always glad if I was earning a salary. With my determination and persistence, I completed my diploma in writing. I then began to find ways to make time to write each day. The comments on my assignments motivated me to continue to dream of how I wanted to send message my struggles and tribulation to the readers. An untold story of my journey to become a writer… 

I asked my mother living in Dacca, Bangladesh, if I could translate her Autobiography about her life during the liberation. But! The answer was No. “Your two sisters will take the responsibility to publish the Englishtranslation.” My dreams were shattered to million pieces.

I moved on to continued with my responsibilities as a mother to guide my daughters at the university. I continued with my work to keep the income coming in. But! I was not satisfied with my life! So, I began to write on topical issues then and these were publishedthe Community Newspaper, local Newspapers in Ottawa. Then, I began to keep a diary of day to day living.

When I retired and my husband moved to the long-term care home in Ottawain thewinter of 2009 for medical reasons. Soon after my mother passed away at age around 92 years in Bangladesh. I was lonely, and began to think seriously to self-publish the book.

I had an incomplete manuscript on‘Fingerprint Development Techniques’ written in the late eighties. Many of the chapters of the book were published in the Canadian Police Magazine as Review articles. The Editor who was retired from the Canadian Mounted Police was ill and passed away suddenly. So, the book was not published.

Subsequently, I decided to search for a publisher to self–publish my Dairy as a Book. It was challenging to edited the contents of my diary while adjusting to a new life style in my home, in Ottawa.

The edited version of the manuscript became my book ‘MY CHOSEN WORDS: MEMORIES OF A PROFESSIONAL IMMIGRANT WOMAN, Ferial Imam Haque, Ph.D.’

Where did you get the inspiration for your book’s cover?
I was inspired by the words of one group leadersof the “Ottawa Women’s Multicultural Conference” held on the occasion of International Women’s Week on March 1976 in Ottawa. I realized the value of Women’s Voice in Canada, as a member of the organizing committee of this conference.
The of leader ofthe Second “Maxi-workshop,”the theme, “The ‘Ethnic Women’ in our Multicultural Society.” She states: We are all Canadians, and yet we are different – and we like it. We kind of like the feeling of being different. ‘Ferial wears only sari, Vera’s little girl speaks a beautiful dialect of Ukrainian, and Kristin is tremendously proud of her Swedish heritage.
”Dressing the way we like, speaking the language of our ancestors to preserve our cultural heritage, is our way of life. That is our way of being good Canadians.
Consequently, as a good Canadian I designed the cover of the book with assistance from the design team of the publisher.

Who has been the most significant influence on you personally and as a writer?
My two instructors at LongRidgeWritersGroup, in West Redding, Connecticut, U.S. As well as the people in the community in Ottawa and the groups I belonged to since 1972, as an immigrant woman. I was confronted with many questions from people about my dress, my accent of the English language, if I spoke any other languages, why I became scientist…

What were your struggles or obstacles you had to overcome to get this book written?
I had difficulty to convince my two sisters living in England with their ideas and comments on the content of the book. Of course, this included members of the East Indian Community groups in Ottawa.

Tell your readers about your book.
My objective was to convey the message to young women aboutthe benefit of education to create self-identity. Thereby,being able to contribute to the benefit and well-being of mankind in the global community in the twenty first century…

Who is your target audience, and why?
The young women who are ambitious and would like to create their self-identityof any ethnicity in the twenty first century. They can find helpful examples of the trials and tribulations of my lonely journey to achieve my goals in life… Also, the readers who would show interest in other cultures, status of women and their progress in Science and Society in the twenty first century…

What do you consider your greatest success in life?
My greatest success in life is to see my individual-identity and contributions in ‘Science & Society’ occupying space in the world of digital community. I am gratified that my sincere work and written words in many dimensionsis available to the global society. Although I am confined to my home in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, yet I am being able to communicate with the global community on the Pandemic topic of COVID 19, in 2020.
Now, I say – thank my lucky stars I continued my rough journey on a lonely path to create my self-identity as a researcher on topics of ‘Applied Science and Society.’

What one unique thing sets you apart from other writers in your genre?
One unique thing that sets me apart from other writers in my genreas I conclude – “Life of an immigrant woman scientist.” I persisted to continue with my rough journey to achieve my dreams I dreamt in my teens in a far way country. My expressions are not so touching as others…because of my training in science.

I succeeded to complete the project to answer the questions I could not answer in 1987under the title:“MY IDENTITY IN THE CANADIAN MOSAIC.” Ferial I. Haque, Ph.D. under another title.
I have finally answered these questions in my recent Memoir tilted: “My Chosen Words: Memories of A Professional Immigrant Woman, Ferial Imam Haque, Ph.D.,” published in January 2019.
I ask myself – have I not achieved my dreams? To end my story of a young woman- who demonstrated her journey as both – intellectual and the joys of family in Ottawa. She showcases her achievementsin science, motherhood cherishing the love of her family.The conclusion “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
The End