12 Mar Ijechi
Ijechi a Miss Singapore Universe 2015 finalist and law student, can give you a 10-reason breakdown on why she prefers Laksa to Chicken Rice.
By all indicators, she is a true-blue Singaporean girl. Yet, she faces questions about her ethnicity and nationality on a regular basis, as the daughter of a Malay mother and Nigerian father. UNSAID caught up with Nazirah and heard about how she has combatted issues of race and discrimination– all while reading Law at the National University of Singapore. Nazirah shows us that no matter the challenge, you can a positive spin on a tough situation to stay a #happybeing.
“Hmm, I come from a multiracial family, my dad’s Nigerian and my mum is Malay. So yeah, I guess growing up, I never really fit nicely into either a racial box or a religious box. My dad’s family is Protestant and my mum’s family is Muslim. So growing up, I had to sort of reconcile all of these differences on your own, and find myself in the midst of all that.”
1. The faith of a mentor
“I remember I was on a school trip, we had these chaperones. So this lady, her name was Jamie and I got really close to her. She’s just a really nice person, and it was during my awkward stage, I was like 15 I think. She said: “You know, people are always going to look at you and expect you not to do well. But you’re going to. I can see that. You’re going to do well.” I mean firstly, it was something I just never expected and it didn’t make me change overnight, but that really struck me. “Oh, you know, she doesn’t even know me, but she believes in me”.”
2. Fighting the good fight, for human rights
“Right now, I’m working with migrant workers. The particular organization that I’m working with is an international organisation based in Southeast Asia, so a lot of the issues that we tackle are migrant worker issues, human trafficking issues. That’s something I would like to pursue in my life – transnational crime stuff. Breaking up criminal organizations.”
1. Neither here, not there while growing up
“Back when I was younger, being different was something I wanted to hide. You always wanted to fit in. Like I always wanted straight hair because everyone had straight hair, I just hated how I looked. Black people look at me differently wondering if I’m one of them, and Malay people never realise I’m half-Malay. You know, kids are mean sometimes, and look at you and say you’re not like us, you don’t look like us. You can’t play with us, you can’t talk to us, stuff like that.”
1. Coming to terms with differences
“I guess you grow up and become much more comfortable with who you are, and the confidence sort of comes from there, and now it’s fine, now I relish in it. It’s something that makes me a bit different from other people, it gives me a different perspective to bring to the table.”
2. Told to follow stereotypical standards of beauty
“In the modelling industry you meet really shallow people sometimes, and I learned that it’s not personal, it’s just the way that they work. So I’ve had people tell me – I’m a size 4 – “It’s a bit too big, can you fit in a US size zero?” And I’m like, “No, clearly not,” and they “Tsk!” – it’s as though I’m burdening them or something! Or “You know, you’d get more opportunities if you straightened your hair, your hair is too curly, it’s too big, it’s not relatable.””
2. Side-stepping stereotypes
“Every inch of how you look is analysed in this industry, and part of doing well is building that skin where it’s like, “This doesn’t bother me.” That’s what I struggled to understand, that there are always going to be people like that. You just have to march through, build some thick skin, and if they go “Tsk!” you should go “Tsk!” as well, that’s how it works!”
3. Beauty pageants and judgement
“I understand the argument that people have against pageants, that you’re objectifying women, it’s all about a bunch of women in skimpy clothes walking across the stage for people to look at them.”
3. Beauty pageants and judgement
“My argument is that whoever that girl is wearing the bikini or the evening gown, if she sees that as something she feels comfortable doing or something she wants to do, they should be allowed to do it. As long as no one is pushing you onto the stage and saying “Go!” I would tell young girls – if it’s something you want to do, then yeah, go ahead! People have their opinions about everything. But if you want to do it, then hey, why not?”
1. What does being a woman mean to you?
Empathy, above all else.
“To me, a woman is somebody who is able to look at another person, another woman, and say, I understand your experiences. I can feel what you’re feeling. A woman is anyone who can do that. That’s how a lot of transgender people describe themselves as being. And I’m fine with acknowledging that they’re women, they’re female, because they have that ability to connect with other women in that way.”
2. What makes you happy?
Peace from within
“I think happiness it’s about being at peace with yourself. With who you are, where you are, and with other people around you.”
3. What’s one thing that people may not know about you?
“I always wanted to – okay, this sounds really funny – to be a chef, just because I’m really bad at it, and I have no sense of how much salt I should add, or how much sugar. Some people have that naturally, but I just don’t! I always dream of having a dinner party, putting everything on the table, and everyone’s like, oh hey, this is great!”
4. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with the world?
Climb that mountain, take the road less travelled
“Always take on obstacles or challenges that at first seem bigger than you. After that you try and surmount that. Especially as women, even if you grow up in a developed society like Singapore, there’s always this inherent feeling of being small, maybe I shouldn’t do something or maybe I should take on something smaller. It’s something I take on every single day.”
Stay tuned to more stories from our ladies!