The outfit repeat
Written by: Chereen
My dad came to America in 1978 with a hundred dollars and zero English. He enrolled in an English language institute, worked full time at a restaurant, and sent as much money as he could to his family back home.
He got married to my mom years later. In between starting a family, he lost both of his parents and had to work twice as hard to make ends meet. As a result, my dad had to eternally put his electrical engineering degree on hold. My mom was patient and supportive. Imagine the 80s, with no tv or quick international calling, in a country that was foreign to her.
The struggle was trying and challenging, but it helped me understand the reality of being a child of immigrants. Nothing was taken for granted. Eating out, presents, shopping for clothes, and visits back home- all of it was valuable because it was hard earned. My parents made it their goal to provide for me and my siblings. We never felt like we lacked anything. Because, everything we needed was given to us, and everything we wanted was provided if it was to be valued.
Every child of an immigrant’s plight is different. And this is something I came to learn the harsh way. I grew up with friends who were average like me, whose parents taught them the value of everything they gave them. I appreciated those friends because we had a lot in common. But then there were experiences that here I am reflecting upon years later.
It was after Eid and while I usually got a first day and second day of Eid outfit, this year I got one. But I did not mind it. I loved that outfit. It was a blue David Bitton shirt with flared sleeves and beige bell bottoms with accents all over them. I wore that outfit once a week to school because it was my favorite. I wore it to outings with family and friends. I loved it.
I had spent months helping organize a camp. It was something I was so passionate about and dedicated to making happen. I was 13 or 14, and super excited about experiencing a Muslim camp for the first time. Fast forward to the camp, it was prayer time and we were sitting outside together under the shade.
That’s when I heard it. There were muffles and something positive was being said about me by one girl, to which another girl replied -who I knew and had let pour her heart out to me over her struggles with another friend and hijab- “She wears that outfit all the time. It’s like the only one she has or something.”
Or something. I sat, and I thought about what that meant. Surely, I had other outfits and made the choice to put that outfit on repeat. I knew what she meant by that comment though. I realized she meant that I didn’t have many other clothes in her eyes, because she came from an immigrant family with a lot of money. Money that was thrown at the children and given to them without a thought. Clothes that were worn a few times, anything she wanted given to her without having to earn it.
We were both children of immigrants, but our plights were completely different. We had journeys that were unfamiliar to one another and explaining myself to her would have been through words that were lost.
I wore that outfit because I loved it. I wore it once a week because I handpicked the embroidered shirt, and the pants were unlike none other that I had seen. I was so excited my Birkenstocks matched. I think about that outfit, and I promise you I still get excited.
Sure, I got excited about new things. But I didn’t crave new simply because it was new. There wasn’t a need for new simply because everyone else was doing it. I was not my friend who was literally talking about me behind my back, and I did not care to be her.
It hurt to be spoken about that way. And there were instances in the future that showed that not all of us children of immigrants have the same struggles, but that’s okay. Some of us stood strong together and empathized with one another. There were those of us that knew what it meant to appreciate a nice outfit, because our parents put in time before Eid to make sure our wants and needs were satisfied. Those were my tribe. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way because these experiences helped me stay grounded.
I didn’t say anything to my so-called friend that day. I didn’t frown at her, no words were exchanged, and there was no reaction. Nothing was mentioned to my parents. It wasn’t out of a desire to protect them, but it was simply because her words were not valuable. They were empty thoughts that meant nothing. They said more about her desire to be materialistic than they did about me.
These words were a blessing in that they taught me to keep my distance from people like her. I would not change, and years later, I have not changed. I wore the same pants three times last week because they were given to me by my Mama. I don’t know how much they cost, and they were worn before by her, but I appreciate them because they’re unique and comfortable. Some things are genuinely priceless.
As I got ready for school the next week, I laid out my blue Buffalo by David Bitton top, pulled out my flared pants, and wipes my Birkenstocks. I pulled out my beige sweater and grey hijab. Everything had recently been washed and dried, so it felt warm, just the way I liked it.
Another week, another outfit repeat. No words were going to change the way I felt about this outfit. Some people just didn’t get it, and that wasn’t my problem. She could keep her Superstars, skinny jeans, and Polos.
The only thing that could spark a change in my outfit routine was a few inches of height and warmer weather. Being a child of immigrants taught me to be sentimental and appreciative, and that is something I hope will never be forgotten with time.