Breaking tradition

Bustleton resident Intizorhon Fataeva, a recent high school grad, wants to focus on her education rather than getting married. That's causing a rift between her and her family, who are close followers of Uzbek tradition.

Intizorhon Fataeva, who goes by Inti, is speaking out about Uzbek tradition that doesn’t give women opportunities to be more than a wife and caretaker. Photo submitted by Intizorhon Fataeva.

Like many kids who graduated high school this year, Intizorhon Fataeva is looking forward to starting college this fall. The Magnet Northeast High School student will begin classes at La Salle University in the fall, where she’ll study criminal justice.

Unlike many her age, however, she’s dealing with pressure from her family to get married and spend most of her time at home, among other Uzbek traditions. Her family moved to the Bustleton-Somerton area from Uzbekistan when she was 4, and as she grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, Fataeva – who goes by nickname Inti – has developed a sense of individuality that removes her from some of those traditions.

“My family is supportive of me getting an education, but I have to be rebellious and persistent on basic freedoms other girls in America have,” she said.

Even working a late shift at Dunkin Donuts caused a disagreement between her and her two older brothers, she said, because women are expected to spend most of their time at home, especially at night.

Fataeva recalled struggling to communicate to her teachers in preschool when she was still learning English. As she got older – attending Loesche Elementary and Baldi Middle schools – her role reversed, and she became a translator between her teachers and parents.

While she was in middle school, her family started searching for a bride for her older brother. They would visit possible brides’ houses, meeting the family and sometimes getting a glimpse of the bride.

“I said mom, what are we doing? Are we shopping for clothes? Why are you picking and choosing out of these girls?” she said.

Her mom told her she would understand when she got older, but the opposite happened. Whenever someone asks if she’d like to meet someone interested in her, she automatically rejects them. All of her cousins married around the 16 to 18 age range, some of them staying here and some moving back to Uzbekistan.

“I’ll be the only one to not get married,” she said.

Fataeva said many families who move to America adapt westernized culture, but a large part of the community in Northeast Philadelphia upholds these traditions. Girls typically don’t speak out to avoid trouble, but Fataeva said she wants to bring awareness to the issue.

“I do respect the culture and it makes me who I am, but it’s a patriarchal society that doesn’t give women the opportunity to be more than a simple caretaker or wife,” she said.

Even though COVID-19 canceled the end of her senior year, including the sorely missed prom, Fataeva’s schedule has still been packed. She’s participated in the university’s summer education programs, where she discovered a passion for criminal justice.

“Violence and abuse is predominant in this type of community where women are deemed more as property,” she said.

Honor-based abuse is when families tell women they will ruin the family name if they don’t subscribe to the traditions. Combining that with physical violence keeps women silent, Fataeva said.

“I want to find different approaches, make a bigger impact and raise awareness on this issue,” she said.

She will attend the university as a commuter student because her culture doesn’t allow women to leave the house before marriage.

With four languages under her belt (also being fluent in Uzbek, Tajik and Russian), she hopes to one day work for the United Nations to help make a difference.

“It’s my story, and I want to show people it’s OK to speak out about something they may not be comfortable with,” she said.