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Tanzila & Melvin

My name is Tanzila. I was born in Bangladesh, lived in Saudi Arabia for several years, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was thirteen. Growing up as a female in a South Asian household hasn't been easy. When I was younger, my mother had severe depression, and my father often wasn't around (he was working to provide for the family). I was both sheltered and forced to grow up fast at the same time. I remember that I didn't receive my first phone until I turned 21, and even then — I was forced to hide it.

My mother and my father's extended family were always hard on me, and my father (Abbu) always tried to stick up for me. He would constantly speak about "reputation" and ask, "What would your uncles and aunties think about you?" Reputation became my biggest enemy as I got older.

When my older brother got married, people started talking about how my clock was ticking. I was only 18 years old when people started pushing me towards marriage. All of the potential men they kept on introducing me to were far older than I was. Around that time (19), I reconnected with my now-husband, Melvin. He is mixed Italian and African-American. We initially met through mutual friends when I was in 9th grade but never spoke in school. We both were estranged from our older siblings, and we realized that we had many other similarities.

After a year of speaking, Melvin proposed to me, but I knew my family would never approve of our relationship. Melvin is Christian, and according to my family — a female can't marry outside their religion unless their significant other converts to Islam. Some people go far as believing it's a straight ticket to hell if you mingle with someone who isn't the same religion as you.

Somehow, my family found out about our relationship and told us to end it because of "reputation." They saw my actions as breaking cultural norms and going against our religion. We decided to run away and get married. I was 22 years old, and my now husband was 21. My family disowned me, and I became the talk of the town. People would tell me my kids will be ugly because they are mixed, Black. They would say to me that "I am going to hell because I married outside my race." It was a horrible time, and I didn't have anyone who had married outside their race for support.

My father passed away from cancer four years ago. He was my best friend and the person I felt closest to. When he passed, I decided to reconcile with my mother.

Today, our life is a work in progress. Most of my family has learned to tolerate me after my father's passing. They still remind me from time to time what a big sin I committed in life. But, I am proud of myself for following my heart instead of someone else's I couldn't imagine marrying someone I wasn't attracted to physically, mentally, or emotionally. We have three beautiful kids who are growing by the day and I wouldn't have chosen my life any other way.

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