I’m a Pakistani-American, but accepting my Pakistani side took some time.
Even though I was born in Pakistan, I moved to the United States when I was only a few months old, so it’s pretty safe to assume that I have pretty much spent 95% of my life in the States. Don’t worry, I didn’t lose touch with my roots and even if I had tried mama aur papa nai jootia tayar rakhi hui thi.
Since my parents migrated as adults, they did not pick up on English as fast as my brother and I did.
My first language naturally was Urdu because that is what we spoke in the house and up until recently, my parents were firm on the fact that we needed to speak in Urdu even amongst us kids. I think these types of enforcements from my parents really kept us on track and close to our Pakistani heritage.
For the majority of our childhood, we were confined to our home. When I started school, it was a complete culture shock to me.
I can vividly remember the big yellow school bus coming to get me on the first day of kindergarten and saying bye to my mom. Then, in the afternoon, trying to explain to the bus driver where to drop me off was complete and utter hell, because there was an obvious language barrier. I mean I had picked up on English from watching TV, but for the past five years of my life, Urdu and Punjabi were all I was used to. That was a traumatic experience because, in my then childish brain, I didn’t think I would ever be able to go home again.
I’m extremely thankful to this boy named Zain who also acted as my interpreter at school. He helped me explain to the bus driver where I lived.
After what seemed like hours of crying, I saw a hope of glimmer. I saw my brother standing on the sidewalk near our house watching for me. After this experience, I started to learn how to speak English from my brother. I made it my mission to learn because I never wanted to be put through a situation like that again.
Then there was the shalwar kameez get-up on Picture Day.
Every year I was in elementary school, my mom would force me to wear shalwar kameez to take my school photos and every year I would dread that time of year. I stood out and while teachers wanted to know more, the other kids bullied me. They made fun of me and told me to go back to my own country.
As a kid, it was hard to handle that type of hate. I slowly started to despise my culture and my parents for forcing me to practice it. Finally, in fourth grade, I thought enough was enough. I told my mom I would change into my shalwar kameez at school and surprise surprise, I didn’t. I stayed in my Winnie the Pooh shirt (not like that was any better for a fourth grader) and I have evidence to prove it.
The older I got, the more distant I became from my family and culture.
I didn’t want to stay home on the weekends with my family, instead, I wanted to do what all of the other kids were doing. I wanted to spend Friday nights roaming the mall, Saturday nights watching a movie in the theaters, and Sunday afternoons at Starbucks drinking the sugary drinks. I tried my best to keep my weekends busy so I wouldn’t be dragged to one-dish parties that my mom’s tea party friends had. Having to dress up an spend a few hours watching other people’s kids was not my cup of tea. Also, cute boys never came to these parties.
I would dread wedding invitations because I was never interested in the food or the perfectly choreographed dance numbers. Don’t get me started on the playlists my mom would come up with every road trip we took to Canada. I was not a fan and the more I tried to run, the more my parents tried to pull me closer. I wasn’t happy with their culture and they didn’t care.
These negative feelings lasted for the majority of my middle school and high school days.
It wasn’t until I graduated high school and my brother got married that I had realized I didn’t need to live two different lives. I could be myself and enjoy both parts of me because they made me who I was.
I realized I internally loved cheesy choreographed dances at weddings which is why I choreographed my own for my brother’s wedding and made my sister dance with me. But I also loved jamming out to Eminem in the car driving to college.
I even noticed I was more willing than ever before to do so-called “desi” things.
I didn’t mind attending kitty parties or one-dishes. I wanted the latest and cutest shalwar kameez from Pakistan, which would always be my number one request every time a family member in Pakistan asked if I wanted anything. I dressed up and put on makeup and even took cheesy family pictures with everyone. I was a changed woman.
The change in me came about for a few different reasons.
The number one reason is the spark of interest I had in Pakistan. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture. I wanted to attend endless wedding functions, I wanted to marry a nice Pakistani boy because explaining to a white boy why you can’t introduce him to your parents was a conversation I didn’t feel like having again, and I wanted to be able to share experiences with my close and distant family. Since the majority of my family lives in Pakistan, I became a lot closer to them as well.
I even noticed I became closer to my desi friends out of high school versus my goray friends.
It was easier to talk and relate to them about life. Ramazan iftaris became so much more fun with my desi friends, because I didn’t have to make special “non-spicy” food. I found my group of people that I fit in with, because we all had similar stories and backgrounds. I even met my lifetime best friend, Maira, and I wouldn’t have been able to if I didn’t connect to the Pakistani side of me.
I no longer held resentment in my heart for the Pakistani side of me. I was ready to accept that I was a PAKISTANI-American.
My love for Pakistan grew exponentially because I began to visit more and more. I began to go out and explore malls, shops, ate from sarak walay stands, and even visited some of Pakistan’s biggest monuments. Pakistan has its own personality and charm about it and I wish I had realized it sooner. The years I spent despising it, I could have spent visiting it and learning about it.
Specifically, in the past two years, I have even contemplated moving to Pakistan.
I want to live in a place where everyone is willing to help each other. I want to live in a place that I can proudly call my own. I want to live with people that are kind and caring and most of all loving. I mean don’t get me wrong, pardes hasn’t treated me wrong whatsoever, but it might be nice to have a change in scenery, and a second home I can call my own.
Cover image via Instagram/@Malihahahahaha