Identity, Life

Just because you’re an American immigrant doesn’t make you better than family back home

Face it. Deep down, we do think we are culturally superior.

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“Your wish,” my cousin in Pakistan said to me when I asked for her opinion.

I grew frustrated and told her that I didn’t ask her opinion just so that I could hear that it’s my choice.

I also mentally patted myself on the back for not correcting her English. I thought she meant “as you wish,” a phrase that we use in the United States.

Then another cousin in Pakistan said it: “Your wish.”

That’s when it occurred to me that “your wish” is an actual phrase in Pakistan. I thought to myself how funny it is that Pakistanis picked up an English phrase and turned it into their own version of “as you wish.” It was so cute. I figured they must have heard some English words in a movie and assembled the faulty phrase that way.

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The Daily Touch

Eventually, it hit me how patronizing I was being.

Why did I decide that my way was the “correct” way? Because I’m a second-generation American? The area that we call “Pakistan” today was actually exposed to English around the same time the land that we call the “United States” was. The language was even institutionalized in the subcontinent at one point.

Pakistan was exposed to English around the same time the US was. Click To Tweet

The English spoken in Pakistan doesn’t only have an accent by American standards because it’s rolling off Indo-European tongues. Initially, Pakistani’s English came from the same source as ours – British colonials. The source does affect the accent. Our accent evolved differently than that of South Asia, where it had to adapt to tongues that were already multilingual.

Still, second-generation children who have an American accent mock the accents of their roots. We even judge the way people “back home” type English words or use Roman Urdu.

Do we think we are somehow…better?

Face it. Deep down, we do think we are culturally superior.

In spite of being second generation Americans, children of immigrants, we think that everyone wants to be like us because we are American. This center-of-the-world mentality is built into us, Amreekans, or just native English speakers. We don’t even know it.

We defend our cultures from other Americans, only to turn around and mock our parents’ countries and languages, judging them based entirely on our Americanized standards. I didn’t even fully realize this until my mental tango with Pakistani English arose.

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I don’t imagine Pakistanis look at Americans with disdain for writing “color” instead of “colour.” It seems they are too busy being multilingual by virtue of living in a nation where the average worker can speak to you in one language, and then turn and speak to a co-worker in another. Histories of multi-ethnic migrations and presence still show their marks in the languages that remain.

This happens in the United States too, where Spanish or Hindi-speaking workers might communicate with each other in their mother tongues. However, instead of seeing this as an extra mental ability, it is seen as a result of being an immigrant. The highlight of an immigrant not speaking English isn’t that this person is in a learning process or multilingual – the highlight is that they have not learned English yet, or they are not native English speakers, and that almost makes them incomplete.

End of story.

Even people who learn English from watching American television and shows at least give the language a try, which is more than I can say for people like myself- who believed that if English wasn’t being spoken the way I speak it, it was not right. I could excuse differences I detected in the British and Australian English I heard on TV because that’s their primary language.

Still, second-generation children with American accents mock the accents of their roots. Click To Tweet

Yet, somehow, all the other places that had been colonized weren’t excused, as if they didn’t have their own experience with an outside culture. I hadn’t even realized the pedestal I set my standards on by default of being an American writer and supposedly “well-spoken” in English.

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My cousin’s English was not used incorrectly, and I couldn’t presume that it was just because English is her second language. Her words were fine. My interpretations were wrong.

Tania Dawood

Tania Dawood

Tania Dawood is a Political Science major at UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas). She is a native of Las Vegas and is always looking for fresh narratives and a new way to get her voice out. She especially enjoys learning comparative politics and staying involved on her college campus.

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