Bushra Rehman

Pakistani American

Watch the video

Feminist Poet Bushra Rehman talks about on growing up a woman of color:

about the author

Originally from Corona, Queens, Bushra Rehman is co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism (Seal Press, 2002). Colonize This! was included in Ms. Magazine’s “100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time.” Rehman’s writing has also been featured on BBC Radio 4, WNYC, and KPFA and in The New York Times, India Currents, Crab Orchard Review, Sepia Mutiny, Color Lines, The Feminist Wire and Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America. Corona tells the story of Razia Mirza, a Pakistani woman from Corona, Queens, who grew up in a tight Muslim community surrounding the first Sunni masjid built in New York City. When a rebellious streak leads to her excommunication, she decides to hit the road. Corona moves between Razia’s childhood and the comedic misadventures she encounters on her journey, from a Puritan Colony in Massachusetts to New York City’s Bhangra music scene.

“A must for young women of color searching for themselves within contemporary feminist/womanist discourse, and anyone else who wants to get down with the fierceness of fly, intellectual divas of color.”
Rebecca Walker

The Reading from the Author

Resources & Discussion

Use the following readings and prompts to inspire student writing.

Reading of Corona and Discussion Questions

1. What can you tell about the narrator’s tone from the first paragraph? How does she feel about Corona? Use details to support your answer. Reflect on this F. Scott Fitzgeral quote from The Great Gatsby:

“This is a valley of ashes–a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.”

2. Reflect on Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.”

3. What is “real Corona pride”?

4. Comment on the following:

  • portrait of Julio
  • appropriateness of convict simile on p. 1
  • irony of Julio’s treatment of the Koran grandmother
  • turning point of story
  • in the garden might be an allusion to
  • wasteland motif in this piece
  • face against chain links imagery of imprisonment
  • the ending
Reading "Skin" from Corona

Discussion Questions

1. Comment on the following:

  • What happens to father’s work in U.S.?
  • The significance of grapes and grape vines
  • Guna
  • Masjid concept of Guna: what is sinful in the story of lying?
  • Identity as a Muslim
  • Title of story

2. Consider these terms:

  • Salwar kameez
  • Peshawar
  • Hahal
  • Fajr namaz
Now You Try

Write a poem, prose poem or flash fiction about an event that caused an epiphany, a moment of awareness, about your identity or about something your neighborhood taught you. It could be your current neighborhood or one in the past. It could be a neighborhood you go to in the summer.

First, make sure you brainstorm. (* See memory item list for brainstorming suggestions below.) This should be stapled to your final draft. Add more to this brainstorm if you want to. Don’t forget boundaries, features, activities, customs (traditions), something that might bind it together, and people when you brainstorm. Your final piece does not have to have all of these elements in it, but you should brainstorm them.

Some of these ideas are from Getting the Knack Stephen Dunning and William Stafford. You may write this as a poem or you may write autobiographical fiction like Rehman does in Corona and Skin using her structure as a model. She begins with setting and description but then has a short narrative with a great ending. You could also write prose-poetry or prose that is almost completely autobiographical. Use
skill and craft to make your writing interesting.This is not just journaling.

So what is neighborhood? A physical place with general boundaries? A physical place with definite boundaries? Or an attitude frame of mind? Where people accept and protect? Do you have to live their long? Does it have major features? Does it have customs? Rural neighborhoods? Urban neighborhoods? Something needs to bind a neighborhood together. What might that be? Religious, ethnic, economic, social, common recreations. Think about your neighborhood. Where it is?

What are its boundaries? What customs and features bind it together? What is your role (center or outside?)

You may focus your piece on important events.

Try using a repeating line to begin or end each “chunk.” Is one of your items so strong in your list that you want to focus on it? You may need to jot down more images and details associated with it.

Do you see a pattern? Maybe some of your items about people, one individual, family or activities –games, meeting places, traditions. Maybe some are based on feelings: good times, bad times, sweet times, scary times. Or is there a group of sensuous experiences: things heard, smelled, tasted, touched, and seen? You may tell about people experiences events not suggested on the list.

*Memory Item List for brainstorming from Getting the Knack :

  • Where did the sun rise?
  • Were there pets in your neighborhood?
  • What was it like out front of your place? Out in back?
  • Where did you play alone? What did you play?
  • Where did you play with others? What?
  • Was there music in your neighborhood? What kind ? Who played it?
  • Where did that nice person live? Who was it? The exact address?
  • What was that smell? Where did it come from?
  • Tell about the haunted (spooky, scary, mysterious) house
  • What interesting (wild, sad) thing happened one day?
  • Who was the bully? What did (s)he do to bully people?
  • Where is the place you liked best ? Tell why.
  • What special things did you eat? Where did you get it? Was it good?
  • Where did you go when you ran away? Or pretended to?
  • What were the dangerous places?
  • What could you hear when you stood in this one place?
  • Where did you see animals ? Tell about them?
  • Where could you collect things? What things?
  • Tell about the place you were afraid to go to.
  • Tell about the person you were sorry for.
  • Tell about the person you were mean to.
Student Model "A"

On The Run

By Monika

He’s on the run
He’s only four where will he go
We search the forbidden alley where we fear the unknown
Angry dogs and grumpy old neighbors
Have they eaten him?
He is found only a few feet from my house hiding behind the mean old lady’s lion statue
He’s on the run
He’s five now but still can’t make it far
He slipped away while we raced in our front yards
Back and fourth until we felt like the last breaths of air had left our bodies
Was he swallowed by the overgrown, abandoned yard a few blocks down?
He ran down the block, around the corner, and out of sight
He is found in his back yard behind the rusty car parts and forgotten beer cans
He’s on the run
He’s still five but he’s smarter now
He gets up and starts running
Angry when we tell him he’s too small to play catch
He’s fast but his brother’s faster
They run to the beat of the mariachi music blasting from the party next door
He’s caught on the corner and swept up as he takes his first step onto the glass-filled street
He’s on the run
He’s six now and he’s had time to practice
He jumps off the trampoline and over the fence on the 4th of July
He’s mad because it was the big kids’ turn to jump
So many kids in my yard we all couldn’t fit on the trampoline at once
The smell of barbecue on the grill and the sweet taste of cold popsicles on a hot day fill the air
This time he made it all the way to my old elementary school and he’s swinging alone
He’s on the run
He’s eight now and has grown out of running away
This time he’s after their new puppy so small and fragile
As he goes after him new found friend
He’s greeted by the other animals in the neighborhood
the coo of the old rooster and the symphony of barking dogs and the meow of the stray cats
He returns, puppy in hand, and that goofy smile on his face
We’re on the run
Playing tag in the street and “ninja” in the backyard
Racing bikes like the pros and playing with the water hose in the hot sun
Learning tricks on the trampoline and collecting bugs without a bit of fear
At the end of the day we simmer down on the front lawn with a small picnic
A collection of random snacks found in the kitchen
We can be found on Leyden St

Student Model "B"

Family of Rocks

By Olivia 

I wasn’t home in time when my friends stopped by. As much as we dreamed about it, cell-phones were not a realistic expectation. So, they anchored their message to the stone pillar on the corner of our lot, shielded by the rough embrace of a pine tree. An assortment of rocks in various sizes held the paper down and refused to let go. When I received word, I retrieved the message. It was one of those mirror puzzles, designed to thoroughly jape its recipient with backwards letters like a foreign language scrawled in lead. It held a certain purity, a friendly and whole-hearted childishness that rolls around in the grass and never stops. But at the time, it struck me as amazing.
I was never in time to catch the elusive ice cream truck. We’d be lounging inside, lying on the floor, or sighing into the grass, when suddenly a faint melody would trickle through the air. Instantly, we’d all be running around, frantic, scraping our bare feet on the chalky pavement and trying our best not to step on a pinecone or anger the wasps that patrolled our front door. Even my brother, who normally had the outdoor enthusiasm of a wombat, would drop his controller spontaneously and rip the curtains open to confirm our sighting. Of course, my reaction was always delayed, and by the time I had wrestled a few dollars out of my parents and run back out the door, the elusive ice cream man had already closed his doors, leaving the unlucky ones to drool at the treat they could have been tasting as he drove away with a jingle. It never bothered me very much, but it struck my brother as a tragedy.
I was never quick enough to stop my dog’s jailbreaks. Apparently the thrill of racing to the top of the swings and the things we dared to shout were enough to distract us from his operation. By the time we glanced at the fence, chunks of dirt had already taken flight and Jack would be squeezing himself through the gap, his tail wagging like a helicopter. His sights were always set on the girl next door, and his partner in crime, a tiny yorkie named Boo. The two of them would wildly scamper around the neighbor’s yard, evading capture with sharp turns and zigzags. No amount of scrambling could ever stop their rampage, and only the gradual weight of time was capable of defeating them. When all was said and done, the neighbors still extended their hands and gave us their smiles, chatting with us, laughing with us, and inviting us to their Halloween parties. As irritating as it was, it never struck them as a reason to turn away.
I was never brave enough to venture into danger. Every basement was packed to the brim with ghosts, and going in without the mythical presence of an adult or animal was practically a suicide mission. According to my friends, ghosts could only be exposed on video cameras or in mirrors, and a few poorly-made YouTube videos had me convinced that the basement was dead man’s land. Still, I managed to get strung along on ghost hunting expeditions, and each trip would result in desperate retreat before we even reached the bottom of the stairs. Every blur, every speck and every dot was a ghost caught in action, and my worn-down camera became our key to the supernatural world. We would tirelessly argue in the grass and on the patio about the morals of ghosts, and how they felt. Even when I covered myself in blankets, lazed in the grass or scribbled with crayons at school, the thought still terrified me. No matter how many times adults told me it was fake, it still struck me as a matter of life or death.
I was never cool enough to keep up with the evolving trends of my grade. Not a single pair of jeans hung in my closet until the beginning of middle school, and time was much better spent getting wet at the lake instead of playing with dolls. The remote little dock that floated in a seemingly infinite sea was my private sanctuary. Cattails, dead grass and mud would cling to my neon pants, but even the gray waters and poles filled with cigarette butts could not dull the vivid memories made there. The water always tried to echo, pulsing back and forth as Jack dove in with a tennis ball in hot pursuit. Everyone would scream as he arrived on the shore and dished out a fresh serving of lakewater, but the joy in his eyes and the way he wagged his tail always won us over. Just one more throw, and that’s it. This little blimp on the radar may have looked worthless, but it always struck me as a second home.
Time always, and inevitably, would pass us by. The lake would fluctuate between flooded and scarce, muddy and frozen. Trees came down, and new ones sprung forward. The grass would go from a healthy, beautiful green, to a quilt-like variety of yellow patches, prompting my father to curse every last bunny that nested behind our garage. But regardless of all the change, the rocks still held their ground. No amount of wind, snow, insults or cold exchanges can drive them away from the stone pillar on the corner of the lot they hold so dearly. I was strong enough to push away when I was being used, but I will never be strong enough to push away that family of rocks.
Student Model "C"

The Company You Keep

By Mharie

The houses are far apart in Evergreen. There’s not enough flat land for the houses to be right on top of one another, but I don’t mind. It keeps it quiet. My brother and I had more fun playing in our own world anyway. We made friends with the animals around us instead of our neighbors. In most ways that was the best part about living in the mountains.

On Summer days my brother and I would play games in the tall grass in the backyard. The air was hot but light, but every once in awhile the sun would slip behind the clouds and we would have a few glorious minutes of shade. Every two years it seemed, the grasshoppers would plague the grasses with their chirping. Naturally, the contests my brother and I held on those years were to see who was fast enough to catch the smallest grasshopper, and who was brave enough to catch the biggest. I, being the eldest, always won both of these competitions. When we weren’t competing, we built zoos for the grasshoppers out of giant Legos. But the doors we used had too big of a hole, and by the next day the grasshoppers had escaped and we would start over.

One summer, the flowers in the front yard were infested with snails. My brother and I snagged a few and put them in an old fish tank we filled with dirt and grass. My mother made sure we put them back outside, away from her flowers. Another year we had a couple hundred more ladybugs than usual. They would fly out of potted plants and bushes by the dozen, and I would watch them take to the air and float gracefully along to a new place to eat the aphids. We once found a caterpillar inching its way across the pavement. We picked it up and put it in that same old aquarium, and a day later it formed a chrysalis on one of the sticks in its new habitat. Almost three weeks later there was a beautiful painted lady butterfly in the terrarium. We brought the tank outside and opened it for the butterfly to escape, but it wouldn’t leave. My mom picked it up on her finger and once it could feel the gentle breeze on its wings, it opened them and we watched as it glided away.

Some nights the bears would visit our house. Once we left one of the garage doors open and a mother and her two cubs pulled open our freezer and stole some meat. We would see the three of them in the largest tree in our backyard eating out of the bird feeders. Another time a bear trapped itself in our garage and destroyed everything in it for upwards of an hour until it pried the trim off of our door and escaped outside.

I will never forget the day we saw a raven dragging its wing on the side of the road. When we got back home I took a piece of the raw porkchop we were going to cook for dinner and brought it outside to give to the raven. I searched for thirty minutes in the cold evening for the bird, but I couldn’t find it. As I was walking back to the house, I found her sitting on one of the chairs on our porch. I tossed her the meat and she ate the whole fist-sized piece in one gulp. Her wing was hanging down next to her and she had puffed up her feathers to protect herself from the cold. She was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. Even in the dark her feathers glistened. We made the decision that day that we could not allow her to die in the cold alone. We waited for my dad to return home and he picked her up with a towel and put her in our dog carrier with a blanket, food and water. Up close it was clear her wing was severely damaged. It looked almost broken in two. The wound did not ooze and it did not seem to bother her. The bird allowed my mother to touch her and put water on her beak. She looked tired. The next morning my mother called the veterinarian and they said they couldn’t help. Discouraged, she brought the bird inside and put her in the guest room so she didn’t get cold in the garage. After taking a shower, she heard noises coming from the room. When she entered, the raven was hopping around the room pecking at candles and empty tea bags. She seemed almost content. My mother picked her up with a towel and put her back in the carrier and made sure the door was completely closed this time. We were becoming connected to this bird and we wanted it to get better. She called the wildlife reserve in Broomfield, and they said they would take a look. My mother drove her there and they said would give her an X-Ray in the next 24 hours. If they could help her they would, but if they couldn’t then they would put her down. We waited for the email and sure enough, it came. Her wing was too badly mangled, and she would never be able to use it again. There was nothing they could do except give her peace. All of our hearts sank. We will never forget that magnificent raven and how her feathers still glistened even on her broken wing.

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