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Us Girls, We Don’t Ask For Much This Wedding Season

us girls
9 min read

by Elizabeth Jaikaran

Sometimes, as we plummet into the abyss of the Internet without any expectation of striking gold, we come across a post that speaks so deeply and truly to our hearts.

This happened to me last week when I saw my dear friend Kulsoom Ijaz had laid her heart on the social media table in terms of all the things she loves and dreads about the upcoming wedding season. It was a testament to the portions of a culture she loves and the portions she loathes. The customs she adores, and the ones that offend. In a single post, she voiced what so many of her cultural kin have been thinking and struggling with for years.

cultural weddings

Kulsoom Ijaz, 26, South Asian. Belongs to the Pakistani diaspora. She is a Muslim. Woman. Survivor. Lefty. Leftist. Housing rights attorney. Loves sweets and spicy food, and nothing in between. She’s also a Gemini. Born in Canada. Bred in Dubai and the United States. Currently, she lives in NYC and plans on never leaving. Freedom and Justice for Palestine for her is non-negotiable. She once had a dream that Arundhati Roy & Angela Davis were her parents and woke up feeling thoroughly disappointed.


Now, in the spirit of concurrent joy and sadness, we’ve assembled the voices of women from various cultures to engage in this same method of self-reflection through the lens of the impending wedding season.


Elizabeth Jaikaran- Us West Indian Girls*…

* Told from a largely Indo-Carib perspective.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to begrudgingly join the assembly line with our cousins and siblings, placing assorted sweets in brown paper bags for guests, only to find that an hour later we’re sprinkling tears of laughter over the mithai. Our hearts throbbing as we look at one another, wondering who will be the next to get married, bringing us all back to the sweets table next year. We don’t want to hear that we should only eat half of a dessert lest our hips become too wide, rendering us undesirable. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable as you implore that we have “too much” thighs but “not enough” butt. We don’t want random Aunties and Uncles ruining our bonding with their body-shaming bullshit kind of wedding.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want the wedding where we blush as you tell us we look beautiful, “just like yuh mommy,” and ask us where we bought our sarees, lenghas or evening gowns. Smiling with all of our teeth as we explain that we bought them on sale, boasting about the many dollars saved. We want our backs to stand straighter as we harness an aura of royalty built upon heritage and self-love in our super fly threads. Not the, “Oh, you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” regressive, complexion-obsessed, straight up racist kind of wedding.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want the wedding where we sit together and giggle affectionately as the girl on stage sings bhajans and qawaalis in a scratchy, but soothing, voice. All while we joke that the boy playing the harmonium is clearly in love with her. Eating curries and fritters from sectional plates with hands crusted in dhal. We don’t want to be hounded with probing questions about career and marriage and babies—the conversations where no answer is ever good enough. Not the “You earn too little” or “How will you ever have a family if you work so much?” kind of wedding.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to walk into wedding houses that are adorned with bright red, yellow, and marigold flowers, in our short summer dresses and our cotton salwars.  We want to tease the bride or groom as the elder aunties dab them with chunky yellow dye while joking about how they used to change their pampers. Winking at the glowing bride when we notice the onyx stain of her henna. We want to dance together with abandon to the rhythm of ceremonious drums. We want to howl with laughter between cheers as our aunties and grannies shake and roll their hips when the drums start beating. We don’t want to feel our skin crawl as older men, family friends or some other, stare at us, as though we didn’t once call him Uncle. Destroying our mirth to make way for their perverse male gaze.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to dance and drink and court whomever we want. We want to smirk sexily at a certain guy or girl across the room. We want to dance with them, first to a respectable arms-length distance Bollywood tune, then later to an intimate, put-your-hands-on-my-waist kind of Reggae track. We don’t want to restrain our sexual agency in order to avoid being branded as “loose girls” bringing tragic shame to our families, or “too wild” in the eyes of the same men who drink and smoke and date multiple women at once. Impinging on our self-confidence and autonomy as sexual beings because of your antiquated belief in feminine conservatism. We don’t want that stinging, miserable, slut-shaming kind of wedding.

Us West Indian girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to strip ourselves of the weight of the world as we indulge in the company of one another. We want to hold hands with our mothers and aunts during the ceremony while they whisper too loudly in our ears, “When you time fah married, we go get you a dress like that.” We don’t want to watch our mothers do all the cooking and cleaning while our fathers sip rum and wait for us to serve them dinner kind of wedding. That patriarchal piety horse shit kind of wedding.

Us West Indian girls, we really don’t ask for much this wedding season.


Ijeoma Eke- Us Igbo Girls…

Us Igbo girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to happily listen to words we don’t understand as one of the elders blesses the Kola Nut in the ceremonial welcoming, in words that sound so familiar yet so foreign because we never learned the language of our parents. We want to constantly ask our mothers, or anyone sitting next to us, to translate because we know the Kola Nut doesn’t understand English so the ceremony has to be done in Igbo. We don’t want to fight the laughter with words of “what happened?” and then force a begrudging smile because the blessing of the wedding included a prayer pleading for the bride to have “many children.”

Us Igbo girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to watch in envy as the bride makes her entrance, face painted with perfection. We want to smile as she is given a glass of wine and instructed to find her groom in a room packed with laughter and happiness. We want to laugh as our uncles jokingly reach at the bride as she makes her way through the room. We want to swoon when she finally finds her groom, kneels in front of him, and takes a sip of her wine. We want to bellow in a deep “awww” as the bride hands the wine to the groom and he finishes the glass. We want to clap as she brings her groom to her parents so that the couple can kneel before them and have them bless their union. We don’t want our non-related aunties or uncles to ask us to go get them a drink when they are capable of doing it themselves. We don’t want them to give us a dirty look because they still look at us as children, and they think children shouldn’t be sitting when there are things that can be done. Never doing enough. We don’t want them to ask us to serve them throughout the night out of some elder piety, even though they hired help for the wedding.

Us Igbo girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to have meaningful conversations. We want to talk to our uncles and aunties about our travels, passions, and hobbies. We don’t want all conversations to end abruptly and coldly when they ask, “How is school?” and we provide the obligatory, “It’s good.

Us Igbo girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want the wedding where our shoes are hidden under our table, covering our purses while we dance; where we are constantly fanning ourselves with a plastic plate or using napkins to wipe the sweat formed by rhythmic gyrations. We want to spend the entire night dancing to the voice of Sonny Bobo, and Awilo, or P-Square and even Yemi Alade when the DJ wants to prove that he is still young. We want to be showered in dollar bills and hear our uncles and aunties whisper in our parents’ ears with such happiness in their voice, “Where did she learn to dance like that?” We don’t want the wedding where we are dodging our “uncles” because they just need to tell us, “You know, I have a son.” Translation: “Because you are an attractive woman, you must be interested in marriage. Why not my son?”

Us Igbo girls, we really don’t ask for much this wedding season.

Ijeoma Eke is a 24-year-old unconventional law student. When she is not in class, you can find her traveling, performing spoken word poetry at different open mic nights in New York City, playing basketball in the gym or with New York University School of Law Dean’s Cup team, on stage at a pageant, or singing her heart out at karaoke.


Esther Bernstein- Us Jewish Girls…

Us Jewish girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to feel our hearts swell with joy when the kallah walks down the aisle to her chosson waiting under the chupah. We want to huddle together over the prayer cards and think about the wonderful years ahead. We want to see the tears dripping onto the plastic-covered card and to feel the charge of emotion between all of us, emotion about this new love and enormous potential. We don’t want to look up and see tear-stained faces looking over in our direction and feel our hearts ache with the pain of knowing others are praying for us and all the ways we’ve disappointed them in our enormous potential kind of wedding.

Us Jewish girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to gush over dress choices and hairstyles and makeup and jewelry. We want the regal atmosphere, the sensation of feeling beautiful and elegant. We don’t want “you got so thin, you look so good; your friend got so thin, is she anorexic,” wonder what crap you’re talking about our bodies behind our backs kind of wedding. Not the scrutinizing of necklines and hemlines, the reminders to think about how we appear to others, “you never know when a shadchan or your future mother-in-law will be looking at you, remember you’re on the market” selling us off to eagle-eyed mothers of eligible boys kind of wedding.

Us Jewish girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to delight in stories of each other’s babies’ first words, first steps, first teeth. We want to commiserate in each other’s babies’ sleepless nights, ear infections, diaper fiascos and toilet-training melodramas. We want the so happy right now, we just want to share more stories of happiness kind of wedding. Not the “shh, she’s coming over,” stop the conversation when a single girl or a childless married woman approaches, not the watching her face crease in pain when she realizes the awkward silence is because of her presence kind of wedding.

Us Jewish girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to lift the kallah precariously on a table as she holds the white umbrella while the men lift the chosson. We want to tease her when her face lights up as the tables both rise above the mechitza and she and her chosson are suddenly blind and deaf to everyone else, eyes locked across the expanse between the men’s and women’s sections. We want to crowd around the mechitza when they take the kallah into the men’s section for keitzad merakdim, we want to watch the crazy antics of the juggling, unicycling, fire-breathing guys. We want to laugh uproariously at the inevitable failure of an attempt to dance the kazatzka. We want to wipe away tears as the 90-year old zaida shuffles his feet in fulfillment of the mitzvah to dance for the kallah. We don’t want to hear “you shouldn’t spend so much time talking to your husband at the mechitza, can’t you even spend a few hours separate from him,” implications of sexual voraciousness and sexual impropriety with our own husbands kind of wedding.

Us Jewish girls, we don’t ask for much this wedding season.

We want to exhaust ourselves dressing up for night after night of sheva brachos dinners. We want to hear the speeches from friends, siblings, parents, lovingly teasing the newlyweds and wishing them all kinds of happiness together. We don’t want the wishes filled with subtle digs cloaked as compliments about the women who stayed home and took care of their children. Not the inspirational stories of men who sacrificed everything financially for their Torah studies amid a speech about the chosson’s thriving business. Not the praise for Jewish values that doesn’t even really try to hide the condemnation for those who don’t make the cut kind of wedding.

Us Jewish girls, we really don’t ask for much this wedding season.

Esther Bernstein grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish section of Brooklyn. She studies medieval literature in the CUNY Graduate Center’s English PhD program, with a focus on representations of childhood, and she teaches at Lehman College.


Elizabeth JaikaranElizabeth Jaikaran is a freelance writer based in New York. She graduated from The City College of New York with her B.A. in 2012, and from New York University School of Law in 2016. She is interested in theories of gender politics and enjoys exploring the intersection of international law and social consciousness. When she’s not writing, she enjoys celebrating all of life’s small joys with her friends and binge watching juicy serial dramas with her husband. Her first book, “Trauma” will be published by Shanti Arts in 2017.

 

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