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Ep#7 Speak For Yourself: A Trailblazer for Afghan-Americans with Madina Wardak

In this episode of You Did That!, I welcome Madina Wardak, an LA-based social worker and youth advocate of Afghan origin. Known as @burqasandbeer on Instagram, Madina engages in dialogue tackling mental health and politics from university campuses all the way to her beloved homeland.

Main Topics Discussed:

  • Growing up in a tiny Afghan community in Los Angeles
  • Being a prominent voice among Afghan-Americans away from the pressure of expectations
  • Navigating haters within your own community
  • The multifaceted beauty of Afghan culture
  • The promising rise of Afghan-American personalities on social media

Tell me about yourself and what inspired you to choose your career.

Madina: I’m a social worker based out of LA. My parents came to the States in 1989. Both my sisters were born in Afghanistan. I grew up in a small and pretty tight-knit Afghan community in the San Fernando Valley. I grew up very, very Afghan. I saw a lot of mental health issues in the family but never knew how to name it. That’s how I got interested in the subject.

Why did you name your platform “Burqas and Beer” and what was your goal for it?

Madina: Surprisingly, I don’t get a lot of hate for the name. It’s actually more of a conversation starter! Back then, I would write these very lengthy Facebook statuses about how identity ties into politics. One of my cousins suggested I start a blog, which I launched in 2015. That happened to be the same year the first Afghan-American Conference took place. I spoke there about gender double standards in the Afghan community. It was well-received but rocked the boat a little bit because I talked about male privilege in the Afghan diaspora. That cemented my reputation in the community as someone who spoke her mind. I don’t claim to represent the Afghan community because I don’t want to have to be pressured by expectations; but I know my voice matters. Still, I want it to be my voice. That’s why I chose the unique name Burqas and Beer.

Was there a moment when this felt like an “official” calling—that this was more than just posting Facebook statuses?

Madina: I do remember being at an Afghan gathering, and an older woman coming up to my mom telling her how much she loved my writing. That was probably the first “real” moment. And every time other Afghans tell me that my content really resonated with them or impacted them in a certain way, I get reminded that I have a responsibility with this platform.

What were some of the challenges you faced while building this platform?

Madina: There’s always the challenge of being an Afghan woman. Really, being a woman in general. I’ve definitely faced a lot of resistance from trolls who’ve tried to silence me or have said that I don’t represent Afghan women in the “right” way. When the Taliban takeover happened, there was a lot of pressure to speak on certain topics and apologize for certain things. It was hard being under that microscope. I’ve been called a Taliban supporter. On the internet, the person on the other side of the screen is no longer a person, but an idea. I was getting a lot of people’s projections, specifically from the Afghan community. One time, my address and my parents’ pictures were leaked. And the crazy thing was, it ended up being some 17-year-old kid from the UK who did a lot of it. There’s often no room for empathy—for understanding that I’m just a person. It’s only this year that I’ve been getting paid for the content I post; so I was doing all this on the side until recently. The biggest lesson I learned is that I’m responsible only for what I say and do, and the work that I’ve done for the community should speak for itself.

How does it feel seeing more Afghan people rising up to do prominent work like yours?

Madina: It’s fashionable to be woken up nowadays, so the biggest challenge is navigating your political and social values to discover how you can make a difference in your own unique way. I love to see that there are so many Afghans who are now utilizing social media to do what they want to do. That is amazing. We’re a very opinionated yet loving people, and it’s great to see so many voices out there adding nuance to the discussion of the diaspora of our parents’ generation as well as this new diaspora of second- and third-generation Afghan-Americans.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve learned about yourself throughout this process?

Madina: How laid back I am. I don’t want to say “resilient” because I’m not resilient. But things that other people say to offend me do not offend me. I’m confident enough in myself to not care.

What would your younger self say if she saw you now?

Madina: “How? I want to be her.” I was a very insecure kid. I constantly had imposter syndrome. I grew up Afghan and I didn’t grow up Afghan, because there weren’t so many of us in my Armenian-Latino community. I saw myself in those cultures, for sure; but there was nobody else who spoke my language, was Muslim, and knew my experience. Now, having a community of people who understand and who I can lean on has helped me gain self-confidence. My younger self would be proud, for sure, even if she thought she’d be married by 24 and have kids by 28! I’m happy where I’m at and I’m proud of myself. I really do feel like I’m built for this shit.

Learn more about Madina Wardak:

Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/burqasandbeer

Visit her website: www.madinawardak.com

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