The first time I met Zein was nearly two decades ago while she was waitressing at a Middle Eastern restaurant on Atlantic Avenue near my home in Brooklyn, New York. Directing her natural warmth and energy toward my then two-year-old daughter allowed for a calm meal, and we quickly forged a unique and lasting connection with one another. Since that encounter, I often gravitated toward her and eventually she introduced me to a “family” of women, who like her, are from upper-class families in Lahore, Pakistan. Strict religious values made living in her homeland unaccepted and dangerous; it was this fear of persecution that led Zein to petition our courts for asylum.
I began photographing Zein and her "family" to try and understand why they chose to move so far from what was familiar and how this had impacted their lives. The slightly guarded look which they possess, is intended to suggest a paradox of what it means to live freely in the States while also being tied to a distinct culture in Pakistan. The coexistence of maintaining both traditional customs and rituals while also embracing the liberal aspects of their identities are what I find most fascinating, and have attempted to capture through these photographs. And although they chose to leave their homeland and live life here as modern women, they nonetheless remain tethered to their roots and pasts.
By depicting Zein and her circle of friends as sensual, empowered females, I hope to dispel notions of how we often view women born into conservative societies. Contrary to such stereotypes, these women define a young, alternative immigrant experience in urban, post 9/11 America.