The collective blue team – Nina and myself (Regine) – are constantly reflecting on what it means to be Asian-American and the expectations, beauty, and challenges that come with our respective backgrounds.
Within the context of a hyper-inclusive label (“Asia” consists of 48 countries), people are at different stages on their journey of unpacking the complexities of their respective cultural identity. In recognition of May as Asian and Pacific Heritage Month (APAHM), we’re featuring Hamaila Qureshi as this month’s creator. Her discoveries about herself and the complex identities she holds inspired our theme: awaken.
Hamaila Qureshi is a local jewelry maker and entrepreneur. She’s also eager to let everyone know that she recently got a job at Limbo Jewelry, one of her favorite shops in Austin, as a Jewelry Production Assistant. Piece by piece, she’s creating a career and life for herself that brings her joy. However, the path to get to this place of creative expression and fulfillment wasn’t easy.
As the eldest daughter of four, Hamaila grew up with a distinct sense of familial responsibility. After high school, she went down the expected respectable Asian career path: pharmacy. Though it obviously wasn't where she was supposed to be, Hamaila toughed it out for two years to the detriment of her mental health and creative spirit. After a lot of tumultuous changes, she ultimately graduated with a degree in nutrition and moved to Los Angeles to work at a non-profit.
She returned to Austin after a year. Feeling like she had fulfilled her responsibility to pursue the “right” path (or at least attempt to), she decided to finally pursue the arts.
“I just started taking classes [at Austin Community College] to see what I liked, ” recalls Hamaila. “I started doing whatever I wanted to – art, metals, woodworking, graphic design, and drafting as well.”
It wasn’t until two years into her experimentation that she found something that stuck: jewelry making. An adult by the time she discovered her love and aptitude for creating jewelry pieces, she received some pushback from her family when she first started pursuing it as a career.
Making jewelry was far from the job that her parents had envisioned for her, and it was difficult for them to understand why Hamaila would reject traditional stability or to even trust that she would find a way to make it work.
A part of that challenge stemmed from her Pakistani background. “Our community definitely treats women who are married versus unmarried very, very differently. They feel like you don't mature or become an adult until you are married,” asserts Hamaila. “[I’ve been trying to] bridge that gap with my mom. I understand I'm not married. … But that doesn't mean I'm still a child. I have my own thoughts and ideas and things I want to accomplish.”
As Hamaila gained traction not only as a jewelry maker but as an entrepreneur, her parents’ attitudes toward her creative path shifted.
“For the first few years of ACC classes, they were like, ‘What are you gonna do with this?’” shares Hamaila. “And then as soon as I started my own business, my mom was over the moon.”
Alongside her journey of crafting a fulfilling career, Hamaila shares her reflections on identity and what it means for her to be a modern Pakistan-American woman.
“For the longest time, I grew up in a bubble. I never analyzed my identity much,” Hamaila admits. “I was such a sheltered child. I always just listened to whatever my parents said without even questioning it. It was only in the last few years that I've stepped back and realized, ‘Wait a second, I should start thinking for myself.’”
For Hamaila, thinking for herself involved not only sorting out the conflicting influences in her life but also finding examples of what alternatives could look like for her. As Hamaila embedded herself more deeply into the creative and maker community, she started to realize that her identities as modern, Pakistani-American, and woman don’t need to clash. Rather, there are ways to express herself that are authentic and tie all the parts of her together.
“Now I'm finding more and more Pakistani women who are Muslims, but they manifested very differently than how I had seen it growing up,” reflects Hamaila. “And to me that just opens up so many doors.”
One particularly inspiring role model for Hamaila is Fatimah Asghar, a Pakistani-American poet, filmmaker, educator, and performer. Women like Fatimah and other people Hamaila have connected with since pursuing creative work serve as both inspiration and living reminders of the opportunities that she can create for herself.
“I would have never imagined I'd be here a year ago,” reflects Hamaila. “A year ago, I was just starting to take classes in jewelry. I never thought that I would actually push myself and make my own community or my own company.”
You can support Hamaila’s work by following her on Instagram and buying her jewelry online and at local vendor markets. She’ll be participating in West Austin Studio Tour at the ACC Highland campus on May 11-12 and May 18-19.
If you’re particularly interested in the conversations around Asian-American womxn and identity, you can follow missfits fest on IG for the latest news on our event series in collaboration with in bold company.
On May 19, we’re collaborating Miranda Bennett Studio to throw Interwoven Histories: A Sunday Social to celebrate our shared histories as Asian-American womxn. Join us for community, a moderated panel, and opportunities to shop from female Asian-American makers curated by MBS.
We’ll also have light refreshments, an interactive art installation using zero waste scraps from Miranda Bennett Studio, and chances to win some fire raffle prizes. Tickets are available now!
Happy #APAHM, y’all.