Navigating identity and building community | Book Club Reviews Mehreen Faruqi’s Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Loud
Many Australians are migrants or first or second-generation immigrants to Australia. All of us have experienced the challenges of navigating identity, relationships and changing social and political landscapes. Mehreen Faruqi’s Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Loud bridges the gap between stories of migration and how they intertwine with the fabric of Australia. We’re all moving through a world shaped by a complex history of conflict, cooperation, and change. Despite the heaviness of these themes Mehreen approached them the same way she describes her life, with resolute conviction and honesty you can’t help being galvanised by.
About the Author: Meet Mehreen
Mehreen Faruqi is a Pakistani-born Senator for New South Wales. Over the course of her political career, she’s worked on a range of policy and regulatory issues within the various Green portfolios, including: young people, status of women, animal welfare, environment, multiculturalism, drugs and harm minimisation, and transport and instrastructure. Before getting elected to the Senate, Mehreen had an successful career as an environmental engineer and an academic.
Like her book, Mehreen’s career in politics hasn’t shied away from heavy topics either, making headlines in New South Wales by introducing the first-ever bill to decriminalise abortion. She also publicly voiced her opposition against the greyhound industry, the privatisation of public transport and environmentally harmful policies.
Mehreen’s book Too Migrant, Too Muslim, Too Loud is a no holds barred memoir recounting her experience migrating from Pakistan to Australia, raising a family, and building the successful career she has today, and was well-received by readers and critics alike.
Through her memoir, Mehreen discusses her experiences that shaped her attitudes and beliefs from her beginnings in Pakistan, to her transition to motherhood, and the choices she made for her career. Mehreen’s story is personal and specific, after all, most of us aren’t federal senators with extensive academic backgrounds who migrated to Australia in the 90’s. But at the same, I kept finding parallels between her story, mine, and the stories of so many migrants all across this country. We all have things that we care deeply about, events that we are affronted by, and communities that motivate us through it all. And so, while being in the spotlight isn’t for everyone, Mehreen’s book is something of a call to action to be a bit braver, a little louder, and to define our identities on our own terms.
Usually, I don’t read memoirs, autobiographies, or much non-fiction. And, for the most part, I avoid a lot of political literature because of the spin, lofty rhetoric, and high intensity. But when reading Mehreen’s story I was surprised to find moments of vulnerability and deep consideration of community. Learning about how she would take her young son on stroller rides in Kings Cross because the lights reminded her of Lahore I couldn’t help thinking about the many families that build new traditions, and new ways of being when they move to a new country. Later in the book, when she writes about sharing cultural celebrations with other migrants it reminded me that one of the joys of migration the opportunity we’re given to connect with people from different cultures, with whom we share, sometimes, very little with except for the fact we all travelled thousands of kilometres to get here.
Being the ‘first’
In 2013, Mehreen became the first Muslim woman to sit in the Australian Parliament and then in 2018 she was the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Senator. Being the ‘first’ these in professional and social settings was a recurring theme in Mehreen’s story and it was an experience that our Book Club deeply resonated with. One Book Club member mentioned how the book opened her eyes to her workplace’s lack of diversity. She observed that organisations that lacked a range of opinions and perspectives created environments where it’s more difficult to speak up and share new ideas or raise concerns.
Expectations vs Reality
The experience of being marginalized in a country that’s viewed with rose-tinted glasses is another central theme in the book. In a chapter she wrote, “My first impression of Australia was a place where you could do whatever you wanted if you worked for it. I saw an Australia that was egalitarian, that had worked hard for ordinary people to be treated with dignity .” Book Club talked about the differences in expectations between first and second-generation migrants and how this shaped their experiences. One member remarked that their parents would let micro-aggressions slide in day-to-day interactions at the moment, but that this was frustrating for them. We spoke about the impact of migrating and leaving behind community and support networks that can affect people.
Another member remarked that older, first-generation migrants are shaped by their perception of their country, the culture, and its values at time of their migration, and how they become socially and culturally frozen at that moment in time. Additionally, navigating new environments and communities can be daunting for new migrants. Whereas children of migrants don’t experience this in the same way, instead they have the benefit of growing up engaging with these local institutions, systems and communities around them and can more easily navigate these environments because of their familiarity with and proximity to them.
Time and lived experience inform and shape our environmental beliefs, and through her memoir Mehreen speaks about her relationship to the climate across her three decades as an environmental engineer and policymaker. While People of Colour are often used as scapegoats for environmental issues, Mehreen believes that it’s through reconciliation with First Nations people and culture that we can commit to practices that preserves the land and water.
There’s also a strong belief that we can connect the migrant identity with actions that honour the country that isn’t often heard in political discussions. One member of Book Club talked about how migrants often use common-sense, cost-saving sustainable techniques that don’t tend to make the headlines, like reusing food containers for storage, preserving food, recycling old clothes into hand-me-downs, new items of clothes, and later cleaning rags.
Q&A with Mehreen
Just as she comes across in her book, in person, Mehreen is equally as thoughtful, wise and witty. When asked by one of our members what sacrifices she’s had to make for her political career, Mehreen shared that threats and Islamophobic rhetoric were directed against her family, to such intensity her daughter left Australia.
Despite these challenges, Mehreen doesn’t regret her choices because she knows that her work will help create a better future for all girls and Women of Colour. Her courage and dedication to making an impact for Women of Colour is inspirational. We personally love how Mehreen responds to hate with humor and love, through her ‘Love letters to Mehreen’ series.
Predictably, our members had so many questions to ask Mehreen that the session ended up going overtime. When we asked Mehreen if she could stay back for a little longer, agreed saying, ‘Sure, I have some time before the daal on the stove is ready’. This is just one of the many examples we experienced of Mehreen’s warmth, relatability and generosity.
So what does Mehreen’s story tell us?
It tells us that while no migrant journey is the same, we all share the hope that there’s space to build and to create something better than what once was. It genuinely considers and recognises migrant participation in Australia’s history and how we can all care for the land and sea, and honour our Indigenous peoples. And lastly, it reminds us that the story of migrants in Australia is an ongoing and evolving one; and it’s up to us to shape the current narrative for ourselves and for future generations.