South Asian Heritage Month: Usman Ahmed
Usman describes himself as a Queer Muslim of South Asian heritage, and of the “in-between” generation, being the first of his family to go to university and 1st generation British South Asian.
A proud Bradfordian, Usman was born to working-class parents who migrated from Pakistan. His father, Iftikhar found himself on the right side of the border post partition, and so was spared the trauma of leaving his home. His mother, Tasneem, born in Faisalabad, comes from a family who were forced to leave their ancestral homeland of Jalandhar in Indian Punjab, and thus settled in the city of Lyallpur in the newly created Pakistan.
Alas, for both of them, this was not to be their only migration. Iftikhar, migrated with his mother and siblings to Bradford, having been invited by the British Government to work the mills and factories that supported Britain’s post-war economic growth.
His mother, travelled once again to an alien place, arriving first in London to work in her aunt and uncle’s Café, were she served cups of English tea with freshly made Gulabjamun or Kalakhand Bharfi to the bus and taxi drives, railway workers, and sometimes office workers who were working in the Capital of the Empire, as they knew it. Their cafe was a place of refuge from the ever-present British rain, whilst providing a sweet memory of home to get them all through the day. Eventually, she married Iftikhar (from Bradford) after reading a matrimonial advert placed in a Pakistani newspaper, and on the day of her nikah, left her uncle’s home for her new husband’s family home in Bradford. She soon realised the weather was worse here. Smog, fog, cold winds and snow were present alongside the rain.
Usman is deeply invested in preserving and sharing his cultural identity, history, and arts, whilst working to understand how this intersects with his multiple identities as Muslim, British, Queer and working class. These intersecting identities provide an innovative space in which Usman explores his identity, politics and existence through art, poetry, and photography.
Usman’s South Asian heritage plays an important role in his daily life, from the food he eats, music he listens to, as well as the arts and culture he consumes. In his visits to Pakistan, Usman has explored the diverse history of Faisalabad, previously known as Lyallpur; Lahore, the capital of the subcontinents Sikh Empire and home to the Darbar of Mahraja Ranjhit Singh, and still hopes to visit the many Buddhist sites across the country, particularly Taxila, as well as, Mohenjo-Daro, a city from the Indus Valley civilization, which is approximately 5,000 years old.
Usman has been with the University of Bradford for the last 12 years, having joined the University as an undergraduate student in 2009. He graduated with a BSc in Combined Studies, progressing his passion of both Sciences and Social Sciences. He then worked as a graduate intern with the Student Experience and Success Team (SEST), as a Volunteering Coordinator with UBU, as a UK/EU Recruitment & Outreach Officer, and finally returned to SEST in 2021 as the University’s Peer Learning Advisor. During this time, he further graduated with an MSc in Cancer Pharmacology at the University of Bradford’s Institute of Cancer Therapeutics (ICT).
As a student, Usman was a founding member of the “United 4 Palestine” society through which he organised and founded the NGO “Palestine Academic Link (PAL)”, delivering the UK’s first academic delegation from a UK University Students Union. The delegation a range of workshops focused on developing media skills, enhancing communication tools, and developing further links with UK
In his academic life, he is working towards completing his HEA Fellowship, thinking about a PhD, and hopes to find a role in the HE sectors that fulfils his artistic and academic interests. In his creative life, he is working on producing an anthology that explores life as a Queer South Asian Muslim of Pakistani heritage living in a post-9/11, post 7-7, British Tory state.
(To explore some of Usman’s artwork, photography, and poetry checkout his Instagram @theusmanahmed)