Dustdevil Diversity Spotlight: Dr. Mehnaaz Momen
This is part of a series of interviews highlighting diversity at TAMIU. On the occasion of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, this interview features Dr. Mehnaaz Momen, TAMIU associate professor of Public Administration.
Impacting the Community through the Students She Teaches
Tell us about yourself, where you are from and what you do here at TAMIU?
I am Mehnaaz Momen. I was born and raised in Bangladesh, a small but populous country surrounded by India. I have been at TAMIU since 2002. I have been teaching political science and public administration courses.
Tell us about your experience living here and integrating into the Laredo community.
I came to Laredo from Cleveland, Ohio. Although I appreciated the winter months in Laredo, it was a huge change. I was lucky to make friends with a few colleagues, they are not at TAMIU but our friendship has remained. My exposure to the Laredo community came through the students. I have done some research on colonias, which made me curious about our city. I am involved with a couple of community organizations as well. I am working on a book on Laredo and have interviewed about 75 Laredo residents about the history and vision about Laredo. This process has completely changed my relationship with the city. I am thoroughly enjoying analyzing these layers of Laredo and trying to weave a story about its transition.
How do you feel your contributions impact TAMIU, the community and the world around you?
My direct impact to the community is through the students. I feel grateful to be part of TAMIU as the university has added confidence and a positive feature to Laredo’s identity. I hope my interaction with the broader community remains a two-way exchange where I can make my fellow citizens curious about my part of the world. I do not know whether I can reach out to the world, but if anyone reads my books and re-thinks what they believed, my role will be fulfilled.
Can you share what some of your hobbies are?
Reading, listening to music, watching movies, traveling, daydreaming.
Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
If you had asked me this question a few years back, I would have probably named some writer who inspired me. After my father passed away, I realized that he has been my greatest inspiration. He was a professor who never stopped learning. He had a very gentle and amiable presence and left the slightest carbon footprint when he died. Yet, his students still adore him. I would love to be remembered like him.
Please share with us your proudest accomplishment to date.
I was happy when my first book was published, but also sad that my dad was not able to see the book. That was a bittersweet moment, rather than a proud one.
Tell us what you’re doing today academically, career or life-wise and what your future plans are?
I am transcribing the interviews for my new book, “Space, Memory, Identity: Anatomy of a Border City,” this summer. This is the most tenuous part of the project, but I am identifying organic connections between interviews and looking forward to the actual writing of the book.
What aspect of Asian Pacific American culture or tradition do you celebrate or appreciate and how meaningful is Asian American Heritage Month for you?
I am Bengali. We celebrate the Bengali New Year (14th April) with color and splendor. I always miss that celebration though I try to be in Austin where the Bengali community celebrate Pohela Boishakh with cultural program and a food feast. I am also Muslim. This is the month of fasting or Ramzan. I do not fast but do participate in the ‘Eid, where people get together and have food together at the end of the month-long fasting. This year it will be lonely but I will cook biriyani and celebrate with my husband.
In your opinion, what are some of the notable contributions by Asian Pacific Americans in the U.S.?
I have been in this country for about 25 years. The Asian community has started being visible only in the last decade. Aside from education, medicine, architecture, I have been really inspired to see a lot of lawyers and community activists who are Asian Americans who courageously challenged the overreach of Bush administration after September 11, 2001.
How do you think people of Asian descent or Asian communities can continue to increase their visibility and impact here and in the world?
This primary season, we had an unknown Asian American, Andrew Yang, who ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination and seems to have started a promising political career. What stood out in his campaign was his platform, not his ethnicity. Without support from all other ethnic groups, his candidacy would have never progressed. This is the template to follow, where ethnicity takes a backseat to one’s achievements. I believe Asian Americans are part of the American fabric and they should participate in all sectors of life unapologetically.
Is diversity important at university campuses, at work and overall? Why?
Diversity, especially diversity of thoughts and opinions, is an essential part of a university campus. American students attend school by zip codes and university is often their first real-life experience in diversity, in terms of social class and different realities. We still live in a country where our ethnicities color our privileges in society. Universities can be that alternate space where all kinds of diversity can be valued and appreciated for their merit.
MORE ON DR. MOMEN: