Slight and short haired, Shormi Ahmed’s initial appearance of timidity belies a determination to be accepted, for both her work and her personal choices.
Born in Bangladesh, her family migrated to Hong Kong when she was aged 13. Her father begun an import/export enterprise several years beforehand. This didn’t necessarily involve a great deal of interaction with Chinese locals. Shormi says this was often the norm for many of the South Asian communities who were usually in small businesses. There is an ongoing battle for many of the migrants from South Asia to achieve full citizenship and the same right and privileges as the locals. Migrants from Pakistan and India were a larger group and more prominent.
Like the complicated nature of identity for all Hong Kong locals, who don’t always see themselves as Chinese first and foremost, Shormi feels she belongs to Hong Kong but is frustrated on occasions when she is treated as a foreigner, called a ‘gwai mui’, which translates as a young foreign lady. This can present difficulties in her work given she organises high profile art exhibitions which often involve Chinese art. She says her relatively limited Cantonese can also be a barrier. Shormi was recently profiled in a documentary for a local television channel which included the camera crew returning to Bangladesh with her. **This will be aired sometime late 2016.
“Some people became frustrated in Bangladesh that they were paying so much attention to a petite, young girl instead of the older men with position.” she said.
Her parents did not initially support her career choices but are beginning to accept it slowly.
“They are more upset I moved out of home.” she says, noting how difficult it can be for Bangladeshi parents to allow their children, particularly daughters, independence before they get married.
She notes the Bangladeshi community is relatively small but growing. While there were many other Bangladeshis from Western backgrounds and education working in the financial industry they tended to interact with expatriates and had little to do with the local Bangladeshi community. She also observed the local community was becoming outwardly more religious with many of the women dressing in hijabs. She did not think this was the case in the past.
Shormi is adamant that she is far from representative of Bangladeshis in Hong Kong. She says her parents were livid when she moved out into her own accommodation before marriage and they remain preoccupied with her unlikely return.
“Only last week I had an argument with my mother about whether I will be returning to live with them again soon.” she sighs, frustrated.
Shormi sees herself as Bangladeshi and a Hong Kongese. She told a local publication of her love for ‘dai pai dong’ which refers to streetside restaurants. She said this uplifting aspect of Hong Kong life reminded of her ancestry.