The Discovery of Bridget

Dear Bridget,

Amar chotho apu. My sister from another mother (because all of us Bangladeshis essentially are, nah?). Is Bridget your bhalou nam or dak nam? Neither? Ok. Well, yay! Finally, a Bangladeshi-American makes it to the stage of a big political party convention. Rumor has it that your outfit was pretty fly. How did it feel being up there on stage? Did you feel like you were breaking boundaries? Because as the first Bangladeshi-American on stage at the Republican National Convention, you definitely were. And your mother, Cindy McCain, made sure to let everyone know in her RNC speech how she “discovered” you too.Bridget McCain.jpg

For me, the great moment of clarity was when I became a mother. Something changed in me. I would never see my obligations the same way again. It was after that I was walking through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by terrible poverty and the devastation of a cyclone. All around me were the children and the desperate faces of their mothers. The pain was overwhelming, and I felt helpless. But then I visited an orphanage begun by Mother Teresa, and two very sick little girls captured my heart. There was something I could do. I could take them home, and so I did. Today, both of those little girls are healthy and happy. And one of them you just met tonight: our beautiful daughter, Bridget. [Fox News]

Ahh, but who is this other little Bangladeshi girl you were adopted with?

John and Cindy McCain adopted one of them, Wes Gullett [McCain's former aide] and his wife Deborah adopted the other… The McCains adopted the baby with the cleft palate, Bridget, and the Gulletts adopted the other one, Nicki. Both children required a lot of medical attention, but the Gulletts never saw a hospital bill.[ABCNews]

It was a little bittersweet to see you on stage, I must admit. I wonder how many times you’ve heard that story told, over and over again. I wonder if you are tired of hearing it, or if in reality, you are too young to realize how you were touted like a token. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you must be proud of your mother, the way you are proud of your father, John McCain. I’m also sure they provided you with a happy life in your four (or maybe seven?) houses. Bridget McCain 3.jpg

But, I have to admit, Cindy’s speech felt a little like pandering to me. Did it feel like that to you? Or maybe Cindy’s speech was simply your father taking Karl Rove’s advice. The video introducing your father said, “his youngest daughter…who became a McCain after his wife Cindy discovered her as a baby.”[YouTube @ 6:22] I hate they say that you were ‘discovered’ as if you are a piece of land to be colonized, or gold to be found. You existed as a Bangladeshi far before your discovery. At least this true story is a positive change from the smear campaign in the 2000 2004 where you were called a ‘black love child.’ So hey, at least there’s that.

Seriously though. It’s great. Really, the chance to have a Bangladeshi- American teenage girl in the White House. So exciting there’s even a couple of books out on it, The First Daughter series by Mitali Perkins.

The First Daughter books are about Sameera Righton, the daughter of a front-runner candidate in the presidential election…In the first novel, Extreme American Makeover, campaign staffers try to package Sameera into what they think would be a more “American” version of the Pakistani-born only daughter of James Righton… I had no idea that John McCain had adopted a daughter from Bangladesh, and by the time I found out about Bridget, the first book was already written. I wrote the Senator’s office and explained my dilemma–I had no desire to exploit Bridget’s real life joys and challenges for my own purposes…If she objected to the publication of books in any way, I’d be willing to dump them. McCain’s office responded with a lovely note setting me free to go ahead, asking for copies once the books were released, which I gladly sent. [cynsations]

So you see, Bridget? Your story is exciting. But since you have a chance at being a Bangladeshi voice in the White House, I have a couple of words of advice. Most Bangladeshi-Americans can’t afford the $300,000 outfit Cindy McCain wore on Monday. Nationally speaking, 23% of Bangladeshi Americans live below the federal poverty line. In fact, the median income for Bangladeshi’s in the US is $37,074 (Asian Indian is highest at $61,322). And even though your parents don’t know how many homes they own, only 25% of Bangladeshi- Americans own homes. And almost 23% of them have less than a high school degree.[AAJC's A Community of Contrast]

I just…I kinda want you to know how the other Bangladeshi- Americans live in this country. If you make it to the White House, it’d be great if you could advocate for the Bangladeshi community. On the real, you are welcome to our house for some dhaal bhaat & roshogulla whenever you are in town. You know, to see how we do it on the flip side.

Khuda Hafiz, Taz Apa

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

160 thoughts on “The Discovery of Bridget

  1. ps: And speaking of self-righteous indignation…

    Rahul, pointing to colonialism as the source of all of the problems of modern South Asian societies may be wrong, but it had palpable and destructive effects (most notably in India, deindustrialization, among other things) and killed millions of people, while paying for it with their money. There are problems with nationalist assessments of South Asian societies, but the indictment of colonialism – and its continuing influence on the ways people think is not one of them.

    Much as I love that bit :)

  2. dwp “The mutineers do leap to hasty judgments sometimes. No Harbeer, I don’t do anarchy. Or anarchists for that matter.”

    Harbeer “I’m not sure what you’re saying here, but for the record, I was using your comment as a segue–I didn’t mean to accuse you, personally, of whitewashing history.”

    well, ok. these emotional over-reactions will happen when words like anarchists are flung about. Thank you for using my comment as a segue. I like feeling useful.

  3. As a social liberal, I will say that I find the handwringing over culture imparted to adoptees of another culture a little excessive PCness. True, ideally, I would like to see the parents try to let the kids learn about their culture of origin just to give them options of not feeling weird for whatever reason. But the greater good of adopting them when no one in their own race( I am referring to a few thickheaded people in the African American community) or culture is willing to or has the resources to adopt them outweighs any idealistic scenario.

    If anything was kind of troubling, it was that Bridget looks really really really uncomfortable on stage. Chelsea always looked a little shy in the 90s. But Bridget looks like she wants to get the hell out of there though it probably has nothing to do with her feelings as being part of the family. So why they would spend that much time on the profile instead of making it more of a passing mention is a valid point though I am not sure it is the same concern others seem to have on the montage in question. Also it brings up questions about the whining politicians indulge in about the media laying off their family when they have no problem pimping their kids politically.

  4. 152 · devil wears prada said

    well, ok. these emotional over-reactions will happen when words like anarchists are flung about. Thank you for using my comment as a segue. I like feeling useful.

    I’m trying to figure out what you’re going on about and, really trying, and yet I fail. You made a comment stating that “19th c. industrialists…insisted that 16 hours day for the 8 year old kiddy workers, at 2 cents a 6-day-week plus gruel, was doing them quite a favor, even if 2 cents did go further then. Not convinced, citizens of conscience brought relentless pressure until now the descendents of the oppressed workers appear as regulars on Eastenders.”

    I attempted to clarify that a significant faction of those you call “citizens of conscience” to whom we owe a great deal of worker’s rights and protections in fact subscribed to an ideology which has once again, very recently, been vilified in the popular imagination (including this blog, this week.)

    And then you attempted some kind of snark…maybe? I’m really not sure. Or maybe you were attempting to say that say social change comes about exclusively through Dickens book club discussion groups at doily draped tea parties–that any efforts on the part of workers to organize and use their collective power means nothing when put in their proper context beside cucumber sandwiches?

    Yeah, I still don’t get what you’re saying, and I’m trying, I really am. As for:

    Thank you for using my comment as a segue. I like feeling useful.

    give me a break! Has Prada finally released their much-anticipated Martyr Line?

  5. Is Bridget your bhalou nam or dak nam? Neither?

    The irony of it! Is Taz even a Bangla name? Instead of razzing a twelve-year old who’s probably not as hung up about her heritage, maybe it’s you who should reclaim your non-Arabic heritage. You can still be a good Muslim. And you are an adult. It’s only fair, right?

    Chick Pea :

    can you all please lay off of taz? honestly the catty readers/commenters nowadays, makes all the ‘old’ folks who have known SM for years on end stay away from this place…

    Chick Pea Auntieji, please take Yo Daddyji, Ennis ‘ tokenizing ‘ Uncleji and Anna ‘ love your post! ‘ Auntieji over to Taz’s for some dhaal bhaat & roshogulla. And while you are at it, coach Taz on at least a non-apology apology. The initial offense of this post is now supplanted by the bigger one of Taz’s not taking responsibility so far for stinking up this blog.

    By the way Taz did you ever address a public letter to your fellow Bangladeshis, both here and back in the desh for not speaking up when the Mullahs threw Taslima Nasreen out of Bangladesh?

  6. 156 · JawaniDeewani said

    Chick Pea Auntieji, please take Yo Daddyji, Ennis ‘ tokenizing ‘ Uncleji and Anna ‘ love your post! ‘ Auntieji over to Taz’s for some dhaal bhaat & roshogulla. And while you are at it, coach Taz on at least a non-apology apology. The initial offense of this post is now supplanted by the bigger one of Taz’s not taking responsibility so far for stinking up this blog.

    Something stinks, all right…and for the record, here is what you have misquoted and egregiously misinterpreted:

    26 · A N N A said

    Taz, lovely post– I’m a huge fan of the format. :D

    That is different from some mindless, ass-kissing, gushing “love your post”, and the link I included which you ignored provides information which further places my words in context; I also wrote a “letter” post once, to a girl named Kaavya, hence my “appreciation” for the format. But don’t let the truth get in the way of your trolling. If you had actually read my comments, you’d realize that I disagree with Ennis and the majority of the people on this thread; I don’t think the McCains did anything wrong or tokenized their daughter. So take your disparaging “Aunty-ing” of me (and the rest of your uncalled-for disrespect of those who may or may not be your elders but certainly are your betters) and GFY.

  7. is it just me or is this just the same post Taz always writes: not all desis are rich, bangladeshis are poor so register as a democrat!

    It’s pretty disgusting that you are looking to capitalize on a teenager, who clearly has no interest in being a public spokesman for anything, to further your own agenda. Besides, read the biography of her you have so much disdain for. What have bangladeshis ever done for Bridget?

  8. 158 · All desis must be liberal! said

    What have bangladeshis ever done for Bridget?

    hmmm.. Given birth to her? :)

    Come on Taz, respond to these critics! If not to defend your own point of view, then for Bridget who will surely stumble across this some day.

  9. I am closing this thread.

    I have read each one of your comments.

    I elected to not reply because I do have the dominant voice in this thread. I wrote and stepped back. I wanted to spark a dialogue and debate amongst the readers to see how other people felt about a very fiery, controversial and complicated topic. I am closing the thread because there’s no one left here but the trolls.

    I make no apologize for what I wrote. I realize that it would make some of you uncomfortable, heck, it even made me uncomfortable to put my personal opinions on a public open blog. But, this is Sepia Mutiny, a place where I was invited to write my opinions on the 2008 Elections. And these are my opinions and feelings. I checked too, with fellow Bangladeshi-American women, and they too felt like I did, so I knew that as long as I was expressing the feelings of people like me, I was at least doing small portion of the mutiny justice. I realize that the commenters in the mutiny have shifted over the years since I started writing here, but I always loved a good intellectual debate. I didn’t realize how trollish it has become.

    We live in a racialized nation where our race is not self determined but designated upon our leaving our home every day. Yes, race is a social construct and that is the social construct that we live in here in the U.S. I wrote this letter to Bridget because I wondered how she felt, as a brown girl, to be racialized in the most critical teenage years in the most public forum possible in, what I personally felt, was in a most tokenized manner. I personally, as a former brown girl now brown woman, can’t imagine that it felt good. I also personally think that the McCains likely gave in to Karl Rove pressure to include her adoption story in the speech. I think that is tacky, but hey, maybe needed since the controversy from 2000. But I think that there were certain words and a story telling method that could have been more humbly told and protected her far more. Had Bridget been older, she may have been able to defend how she wanted to be portrayed more.

    Bridget and I are both Bangladeshi Americans. Some would say since I was born here, that would make me more American then someone that was born in Bangladesh like Bridget. We don’t get to choose our race or ethnic background, even when adopted, and when Bridget shows up to events in the White House over the next four years, we all know what the inevitable question will be — “So where are you from?” Some of you argued why should she care for Bangladesh — that she is American. I would argue that so am I, but neither of us get to choose in this racialized nation how other people see us. I also don’t ask her to acknowledge the people of Bangladesh, but the stories on the margin of Bangladeshi-Americans. Because even though the story of our migration is starkly different, in the end, she is my sister. Our stories parallel each other.

    Except, she will be in the unique position to be in the White House. She will be asked “Where are you from?” then she will be asked some sort of typical question that I KNOW all of you have had – like, “Don’t millions of people die there from typhoons?” or “Don’t you think yoga is great?” or something just as ridiculous. But eventually, she WILL be asked, “so what are the issues affecting Bangladeshis?” because in politics that question is always asked. And instead of answering that she doesn’t know maybe she could be equipped with some more info about the community. Because like it or not, she will be our first South Asian in the White House if McCain is elected and she will be the first spokesperson for our community whether she likes it or not.

    I am who I am, and on SM I try to write who I am as well. Yes, I write about desis not being rich, because my parents are both blue collar workers whose daily struggle inspires me to keep trudging for change. I write about Bangladeshis on a South Asian blog because I am Bangladeshi, and no one ever really gives us a voice in South Asian settings. I write about being Muslim because I think it’s important that South Asians realize that there are Muslims within their community as well. I write about community organizing because creating a political voice for people like me (yes, even you) is what is my 10-year profession. And yes, I may also lend a progressive left-leaning perspective to this blog, but that’s the great thing about the Mutiny. Everyone on the masthead writes for whom they are, and it lends to the diversity of roots, voices, classes, stories, partisanship and struggles within the larger South Asian American narrative. It’s what makes the Mutiny so damned cool. So deal that there are different types of South Asian Americans then yourself.

    Oh and re-read the post – I never actually say anything disparaging about the McCains adopting. I think adoption is a beautiful thing. I applaud them for adopting. I just don’t applaud how they talk about how they adopted. Slight nuance there. Yes, I too think “it is pretty disgusting that capitalize on a teenager, who clearly has no interest in being a public spokesman for anything, to further your own agenda” which is EXACTLY what I think was happening on stage at the RNC last Thursday. My post was merely an opinionated response to that.

    Thank you all for commenting. It was quite lovely and lively.