This HCUO series was created to promote diversity and to highlight individuals in the South Asian community whose journeys may seem unconventional compared to those usually recognized. It is hoped that fellow South Asians will be inspired to follow their creative ambitions and that readers will grow an overall appreciation for South Asian talent.
The following interview introduces Bengali-Canadian Nazifa Rahman, a recent university graduate who represents her culture, shares her love for food, and advocates for autism awareness through her content on Tiktok and Instagram.
HC: What inspires you creatively?
“I think it definitely has to do with my culture — representing it as much as possible. I think when I was starting out, there weren’t many girls that looked like me. There were some really big [Instagram] accounts like Irene Sarah that I would always look up to and feel like ‘wow I don’t really see that many Canadian Bengalis here that do anything like this [create content on Instagram].’ We’re told to be doctors, engineers, whatever…but we don’t [see] the people that love makeup and share the things that girls want to know about. And for me, I wanted to see what problems Brown girls had…like, finding a nude lip for a Brown girl is a lot harder than what White girls are recommending to us. I guess where my creativity stems from is just finding ways to represent more people that look like me.”
HC: Does being a Desi creative affect how you’re seen in the South Asian/Bengali community?
“I think it’s been more positive than negative. Now it’s very common. I see more and more girls doing it — before it was a little bit like, ‘what is she doing?’ kinda thing, [but] now everyone really embraces it. I think…brands notice that South Asian girls have way more engagement than our White peers do and that’s because our culture is something everyone finds common ground in. Everyone wants to really hype that up, because look at how gorgeous our [South Asian] outfits are, look at how gorgeous our jewellery is, so it’s been received really well. Growing up I was really ashamed of it. My parents sent me in a lehenga [traditional South Asian clothing] for my grade 8 graduation and I was traumatized. I was really, really embarrassed and didn’t want to show up on stage in a lehenga. But now when I think about how far I’ve come, I’m really, really proud of my culture and I love sharing it.
I know the more the community is growing, [there are] conversations that are often stigmatized in our communities — topics like mental health, [which] our culture always hides under the rug…and doesn’t want to focus on. Those are real issues and I’m really glad there are influencers that are using their platform to talk about real issues and things like domestic violence. It happens in our communities, but we don’t want to talk about it. It’s nice being a form of resource that people like to reach out to — like [if] you asked me if I know anything [about an issue that] I don’t have the answer to, maybe another follower of mine might. So I try to use my platform to start those conversations.”
HC: What are your end goals or dreams for the future?
“Every parent wants their child to have a stable income, a 9-5, that dream house, and all that. But I would really love to start a non-profit or something that relates to autism awareness [in] places like Bangladesh that don’t really know how to [help] somebody who could be diagnosed. I always think about my brother — if we were living in Bangladesh, how would we have [raised] him, and how different would our lives have been if we lived there? So I would love to use whatever skills I’ve learned here to give [Bangladeshi] families the same tools and education to use [with] their family members, rather than sending them to [psychiatric hospitals]. They could do so much therapy right from home, and they just don’t know where to start. So I would love to start some sort of campaign that really helps educate those kinds of people.”
HC: What advice do you have for those who want to launch their own platform?
“There is no right or wrong to it, just start. You are going to grow so much in that journey. What my content looked like back in 2016 looks so different from what it looks [like] now. You’re just going to be learning more and more about yourself, put yourself out there. Don’t worry about the numbers; the numbers will come and go. Post things that inspire you, that you yourself would love to know about [and] learn about. And I think you shouldn’t have an expectation of reaching 100 million people or whatever it is. Just try to impact one person. I think that would really in the long run be more impactful than having or chasing a [number] goal. I think a lot of people lose their integrity and value when they’re just trying to chase these numbers rather than putting honest content out there. That would be my advice.”
*Responses have been formatted for the purpose of this article.
Follow Nazifa on Instagram and TikTok @miniinaaz