At BHAV, we believe in empowering women to find unique ways to embrace their cultural heritage. We started 'The Culture Connection' to explore the impact (both good and bad) of heritage on a variety of incredible women, and understand how it continues to play an influential role in their lives. We invite you to join us on this journey, with the hope that you find value in these conversations.
Aishah (@aishahiqbal) is marketing analyst, host of her own podcast called, 'A Story & a Chat', a life coach for moms, and author of her self titled book, "This Single Mom Ain't No Punk." She also loves to read, particularly fictional pieces. Read on to learn about Aishah's journey of self-reflection and navigating through motherhood.
On Her South Asian Heritage:
What's your background?
My parents are from Pakistan though they were born in India pre-partition. I’ve also had someone try to convince me that I’m Indonesian because I was born in Jakarta (shrug).
How has, or currently does your heritage play a role in your life?
My heritage is largely based on what was defined by my parents in our household as I was growing up. My father moved his family around the world because of this job with the United Nations, and we never lived in a country where anyone looked like us or spoke the same language. Because of this my parents worked hard to instill in their kids the fundamentals of their culture and religion, not just through their spoken word but by example as well.
This push & pull between my South Asian heritage & Western cultural assimilation has manifested itself in a few ways in my life.
Education: Originally, I was very keen on pursuing a Liberal Arts degree in college, specifically to get into Journalism, which is a far cry from the typical South Asian focus on Business, Engineering or Medicine. But it finally caught up as I graduated college with a degree in Management Information Systems and then went on to get an MBA.
Career: It’s no surprise then that my career path followed the business path I started in my college year though I added in a slight twist: My day to day job is Marketing Analytics in Advertising primarily in Tech and I’ve also started the exciting journey in entrepreneurship by becoming a life coach
Relationships: This has definitely been a fun one, haha. Call it narcissistic, but I’ve always preferred men who “look” like me. This hasn’t necessarily meant they are Pakistani & Muslim, quite the contrary actually. Perhaps its because of my experience with Islam outside of my home that had me steer clear of Muslim men, but also because I didn’t see myself as the Muslim woman that they would expect me to be.
Faith: As mentioned, my parents did a phenomenal job of showing us our culture and religion by example, and even though I have early memories of praying to Allah (God) my belief or faith didn’t kick in until after my father passed away. I was a senior in high school, and I desperately needed to believe that he was in a place where he was being taken care of. Even with that need, my faith can be best characterized as a mix of rather than purely Islamic. I identify as a Muslim (I pray daily, and fast during Ramadan) but relate to other religious concepts as well (reincarnation doesn’t sound bizarre to me!)
Motherhood: my daughter is of mixed background and as her mother, I find that it's up to me to play a big role in not just teaching her about my side of the culture & religion, but also accommodate that of her father’s. Being an unmarried mom, this means that I’m pretty much doing this solo, so she’s super lucky that I’m as worldly in knowledge as I am LOL. Joking aside, I actually prefer this because it will encourage her to be inquisitive about the world around her - if she hears or sees one thing from my side that is different from her dads, she will ask why, or at least I really hope she does. As a Queen, raising a future Queen, it's important to me that she feels comfortable and empowered to ask questions rather than just accepting information that is given to her.
Your podcast, 'A Story & A Chat', focuses on thought provoking topics such as love, inclusion, and women but brings in different perspectives to speak on these topics. What inspired you to start your podcast? What have been some memorable topics for you personally from the show?
It started with one conversation. In an effort to practice marketing for my then upcoming life coaching program; I asked a really good friend of mine to have an IG live conversation with me about the challenges of motherhood. It was an amazing conversation, as they usually are with this friend of mine, and afterwards she jokingly said that it was our very own podcast episode. I immediately latched onto that because I’d already had a tiny seed of this idea in my head. It made complete sense to us as well, because we both believed that the world needs to hear more from women like us: highly education South Asian Muslim women, who have spent the majority of their lives in the USA, and raising kids with mixed backgrounds.
After some initial planning & testing, my friend decided to deprioritize this for herself, which left me to decide whether I wanted to pursue this on my own. I decided to go ahead with it. My super power has always been to ask questions that might make some people uncomfortable, but these questions lead to really insightful conversations. I decided that I would use the interview format but I also wanted to add in my own personal storytelling to help provide more context to the conversation I would engage in with people who are experts in their fields. With the format down, I started reaching out to authors, activists, strategists, teachers, coaches, and religious leaders, asking them to have a conversation with me. That was the hardest part of my journey - I was putting myself out there, to complete strangers, asking them to be on a show that didn't exist yet. It was an opportunity for me to practice being courageous!
There were two topics that were really memorable for me, one of which actually made it to the production table. The one that didn’t, was a conversation about how to heal from generational trauma. After an amazing conversation with a woman who has specialized in trauma healing, which started as a necessity to help herself, my novice self accidentally deleted the interview and was unable to retrieve it for the podcast. So it’s memorable from the perspective of a big lesson learned in podcasting, but also because at that time, the conversation helped me on a very personal level so I took away some critical pointers for myself.
The second topic, which I’m super proud of, was on Love. More specifically, “what’s the big deal about Love?”. At a time when the world is undergoing a collective crisis on so many levels, I believed that remembering Love was of absolute importance right now. So I decided to approach it from different perspectives to help drive the point of its importance from different voices that could resonate with many (i.e. an activist speaking about Love being the driving force for his work in equality for transgendered people). On a personal level, this is also where I tested myself by reaching out to well known personalities as a way to further practice handling rejections. Thankfully most of my invitations were accepted, whew!
Along with your podcast, you also offer life coaching services which helps moms be more confident and navigate through the struggles of motherhood. How has your life experiences allowed you to be an effective coach in this area?
I am the physical embodiment of the phrase “What’s Next, Mamma!” which is not just my life mantra, but also the name of my life coaching program for purpose driven Moms. The concepts & principles I use for my coaching are those that I actually used on myself first.
I essentially had to rebuild myself after becoming a mother, not just because I had a brand new human being in my life that I was 100% in charge of keeping alive and well, but also because of the trauma that I went through (and still experiencing to a certain extent) of “causing family shame” and the sadness I had from embarking on this journey without a committed partner. I believed with my entire heart that I had to be the example of the woman I hoped for my daughter to be when she grew up.
Just like I found out while “coaching” myself, the women I’ve worked with already know the right answers for themselves, they just need some help in unearthing them, and I’m more than happy to be that partner for them by using the skills that I’m already good at like listening and asking probing questions.
Your book titled, "This Single Mom Ain’t No Punk”, talks about your personal journey of struggle to hope and empowerment while you were pregnant with your now daughter. With the many cultural stigmas in the South Asian community revolving around single motherhood, have you faced a lack of support from family or within your community? If so, how did that shape you to be the boss career woman and mom you are today?
I have to admit that I’m luckier than most women in similar situations because I was able to advocate for myself from a position of relative security (financially dependent with a well established career). This allowed me to not depend on my family for my well-being which many use as a tool for control. This really helped me hold the perspective of bringing my family, especially my mom, along with me on this journey. I gave them a choice to either be with me (and the future new addition to the family) or not. I’m so thankful every day that my mom chose to be with me because man did I need her!
With that said, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was heartbreaking to hold space for family members who questioned why I didn’t get an abortion, or asked me to lie about my “situation” so they could keep face with the community, and still maintain the most positive outlook I could for myself so that my baby girl wouldn’t be infused with the sadness I was feeling. Thinking about those things still bring me to tears to this day.
Everything that I am today is for the benefit of my daughter. Being a happy and fulfilled person helps me be the best damn mom and set the best example I can for her.
What do you love most about South Asian fashion? Any favorite pieces/outfits growing up?
My mom was once made fun of for being “paindu” (literally “villager” but a derogatory term meaning low class) because of her sense of style which is bright colors and big bold jewelry. Just like my mom, that is exactly what I love - bright bold colors, and big statement pieces. I don’t wear jewelry often but if I do, you better believe that it will be large!
A hugely favorite piece of jewelry is my mom’s karre (bangles) which she gifted me with when my daughter was born. I have sworn to never take them off (not until I gift them to my daughter) because my mom has worn them every day since when my dad gifted her with them for their wedding. The karre were a solid part of my mom’s identity so I cherish them with my entire being.
What's your favorite thing in your closet right now, or the piece that gives you the most confidence?
I have this pink gown, covered in sequence thread work, that I purchased for my nieces wedding. It always makes me feel elegant and beautiful. I wore the gown again for a professional photoshoot with my daughter (who had a similar one), which I used as the cover art for my podcast. The gown did for me what I didn’t want to do with overt marketing, which is to show the world that I’m a beautiful south asian woman with something important to say.
What's your go-to cocktail, spirit or drink?
Grey Goose & tonic.
What are you currently watching?
The Umbrella Academy Season 2
Name of the best book you've read in a while?
'Recipe for Persuasion' by Sonali Dev
Morning person or night owl?
What's 1 small thing you couldn't give up (daily ritual, accessory/personal item, etc.)?
My morning cup of coffee... Aliza gets the best mom that way :)