Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 217: This Crescent and Star

When I was in primary and secondary school here in California, not a single non-South Asian I ever met knew what "Pakistan" was. When they asked where I was "from," I'd first respond "here," and would get back blank or confused stares. Then they'd invariably try to re-explain themselves, not realizing their offensiveness, "No, I mean like, where are you originally from?" Ever since I was young, I can remember responding to this question by having to make the whole statement all over again, "Well, I was born and raised here in Southern California, but my parents are from Pakistan. My dad was born in India, but he and his family moved to Pakistan when he was little."

Each time I made this statement, I was having to define and redefine to myself who I was, and I was constantly forced to be made aware of my "original" otherness. As a desi kid, I was always "other" in a suburban California neighborhood. The "otherness" shown most to the kids I knew at school when they didn't understand the word "Pakistan," when they'd scream in their high-pitched elementary school voices, "Ew! It looks like your hand has a disease!" upon seeing the mehndi I had gotten done for Eid; when I'd have to explain for the billionth time why I was the only one wearing sweat pants in P.E. instead of shorts, why I couldn't eat today or for the next 29 days from dawn to dusk because of fasting because of Ramadan because of being a Muslim...because because because.

It seems sometimes that the life of a desi kid growing up in the 80s and 90s was all about explaining the "why," toward a goal of trying to prove to the other kids how we were just like them, only with these extra customs or slight differences in habits. And as a Pakistani-American kid, you also grew up needing to explain "Pakistan." Even until the early 2000s, I would have to say, "It's a country right next to India," followed by the listeners' halfhearted "...ohhs!"

So it was always a dream of mine that someday, maybe when I grew up, everyone would know what Pakistan was, what a vibrant, colorful culture and up-and-coming nation it represented, all the good values of family togetherness, hospitality, and charity it contained, the ones I saw during my visits there to see family and explore the land. Then came 9/11 at the beginning of my senior year of high school.

9.5 years later, half of my dream came true: I no longer run into non-desis who don't know what "Pakistan" is. Everyone has heard of Pakistan. It's that "Middle Eastern" country (a new geographically incorrect stereotype) into which the terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, fled from Afghanistan. It's the place where OBL is hiding. It's the place where terrorists are being trained, it's the place from which terrorists hurt people in Mumbai, it's the place where illiteracy and poverty are rampant, it's the place of Islamic extremism, it's...

And my head wants to explode, and my heart aches because I hear the wonderful, developing country of my people being so grossly and unfairly misrepresented, and I see myself once again as a little girl having to explain once again the "why" and the "because" and the "it's not really like that." Yet it's never been a feeling of anger toward anyone, not the ones who ask or make judgments based on what they see on the news. Rather, it's been a feeling of disappointment and frustration with my own people: those who have fallen into the empty-minded bandwagon of people equating Islam with "you must talk and act like what we believe is 'Arab' in order to be a good Muslim" (which, for example, leads to grammatically incorrectly placed "insha-Allahs" in random and unnecessary parts of sentences), with Pakistan's corrupt government, with our inability, here in America, to form a tight-knit community of Pakistanis as the Indian community has, in order to change the way non-desis view us.

So now, we Pakistani-Americans in the 21st century, especially after the latest hullabaloo of OBL being found in Pakistan's capital, will more than ever have to learn to redefine ourselves to ourselves and our own people if we are ever to redefine Pakistan in a positive light to others. My childhood and teenage dream of seeing Pakistan as a well-thought-of country by the world didn't come true for my own adulthood generation; but I am a dreamer, so I now create a new dream for myself in hoping to see to it that my children, at least by the time they themselves are adults, will never have to hear of Pakistan in a negative light again, that our symbol of the Crescent and Star will represent Pakistan in just that way: a source of light, beauty, balance, and meaningful history.


  1. They say there's smoke where there is fire! If I were you I'd stop running from the smoke and start looking for the fire. Don't do what both Americans and Pakistanis are so good at - covering up. Americans after all the "green", peace loving campaigns are still known as most violent nation ever, and rightly so. Pakistanis after all our nostalgic euphoric moments are most self righteous stubborn self centered bastards. And guess what, the world knows it, no matter how much we try to cover up.

    Sure you'll say that I'm generalizing and not all Pakistanis are like that. Trouble is that there are enough for the whole world to worry about. Even i worry all the time and I am Pakistani.

  2. @Anonymous_5/5/11_2:42pm

    It seems that you may not have read my entire post, especially the second to last paragraph, in which I specifically state my disappointment with our own people, rather than with others. I name in that section just a few of the faults our people have (and, as with any other group of people, we definitely have more), and therefore I am not "covering" anything up. Rather, I am indeed "looking at the fire" as you say by pointing out in those second to last and last paragraphs that before anyone else will see us in a positive light, we need to fix our own faults (I believe you misread what I wrote).

    I know enough Pakistanis that talk about Pakistan in the negative tone that you do; and, perhaps if you live in Pakistan and have to deal with that country's political corruptions and socio-economic issues on a daily basis, that sort of negative outlook is all that you feel you have sometimes. But that sort of negative outlook is extremely deconstructive, and it will get us nowhere, if not take us further back. Being cynical gets NOTHING done. Hating our own people without trying to do anything about it does NOTHING but allow those bad habits to continue, while making yourself angrier by the day.

    There is no "covering up" going on here. There IS, however, a careful, diplomatic, and progressive discussion beginning about the constructive ways in which we as Pakistanis can begin to improve ourselves as individuals and communities, both in the motherland and in the global diasporas. Focusing on the negatives is futile; however, analyzing those negatives (as well as ways to correct them) and then offering positive reinforcement on our good qualities as foundations for social, political, and economic improvement are constructive ways to make our society better.

  3. Oh please let me stop you before the famous pakistani fix-it-all-optimism..."Inshallah everything will be fine", cuz that'll be against everything you're saying here. Yet thats what I feel like you're saying.

    I want to focus on the positive, would someone please tell me SOMETHING positive about Pakistan? Last time I asked that question to Pakistanis I got answers like "We built an atom bomb", "We invented seekh kabobs" and this person was actually serious!

    I don't think there is anyone in the globe who wants to see Pakistan a better place to live than me. Instead of dreaming i'd rather do something about it. Thought long and hard about it, it needs to start by making them realize how deep hole they're in and they're still digging in some kind of euphoric state.

  4. I dont live in Pakistan. Dont have to deal with the country's socio-economic problems, and ironically I don't have anything against "Political corruptions", We have corrupt politicians in America on a much larger scale. I think Pakistani people are so bad that they actually make politicians look good. It's a mass mania going on there.

    And I appolagize I'm probably preaching to the choir here, what I said was not directed towards you, just general Pakistanis.

  5. DUDE SHUTUP.YOU ARE BEING RACIST AND ANNOYING. GO AWAY. (talking to anonymous, not blog writer)