Identity, Life

The Desi community always shames me for being Pakistani and Indian, ever since they found out

There is no reason for us to carry on the animosity that the generation before us won't let go of.

I’ve been thinking about traditional red wedding dresses a lot lately, because there are so many traditions ubiquitous of Muslim weddings I’ve attended that are from India, even when the bride and groom are Pakistani. The red dress so commonly worn by brides has Hindu origins. The event known as the Mehndi ceremony has both Hindu and Sikh origins. When I discovered this, it surprised me, especially considering how much animosity there is regarding inter-religious and intercultural marriages.

I have never felt like there was a difference between India and Pakistan. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother spoke fondly of her own childhood and education in India. When I drew our family tree in third grade, her branch, and therefore a branch within me, had “India” written next to it.

I have never felt like there was a difference between India and Pakistan. Click To Tweet

My maternal grandparents were from Uttar Pradesh, which is still a part of India today. Because of this, although I was told that I was Pakistani and my parents referred to themselves as Pakistani (they were born and raised in Pakistan), I have always been acutely aware that a part of me was Indian.

When I tell people this, I get mixed reactions; some confusion and a lot of aggression. “There was literally a war between Pakistan and India,” people would tell me. “You can’t be both.” Some even said, “People died for Pakistan to exist – to be able to say they were Pakistani and not Indian!”

But growing up I understood things differently. My family watched Bollywood as often as we could when I was younger, and I could understand Hindi as well as Urdu. In fact, Bollywood is where I went when I had a desire to see famous people who looked like me.

Bollywood is where I went when I had a desire to see famous people that looked like me. Click To Tweet

If nothing else, I knew that India and Pakistan were much more similar than Pakistan and the United States. I had more in common with my Indian Muslim friends from college than I did with friends from other backgrounds. When I speak to store owners at the Desi grocery store, our common language is enough to unite us; it doesn’t matter if one of us is Indian and the other is Pakistani. Here, in the United States, we feel like we are a part of the same community.

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Even so, it seems like Pakistanis and Indians find it much easier to say that they are Pakistani-American and Indian-American, respectively. These identities don’t offend the way it does when I assert that I am both Pakistani¬†and Indian. But this is my reality. Both are in my blood. Both have shaped the way I grew up.

Both are a part of my history.

Somehow, being Pakistani-American is easier to swallow than being Pakistani and Indian. Click To Tweet

In fact, my paternal grandfather, a Pakistani Ranger who patrolled the border of India and Pakistan, would often cross the border and attend the weddings of Indian soldiers whom he befriended with while on patrol.

A friend once told me: “You can understand why a Bengali or Indian wouldn’t want to marry a Pakistani, right?”

I did not understand, despite her matter-of-fact tone. Walking home from volunteering one day with my Indian friend, a man asked us where we were both from. Being American first and foremost, born and raised, we both answered: “New York.” Upon his insistence, we offered up our ethnicities: Indian and Pakistani.

The man was genuinely surprised, “Aren’t you supposed to hate each other?”

Why? Why should I hate another person because of their ethnicity? What does my friend’s place of birth have to do with who she is as a person? Neither she nor I took part in any war; neither of us was alive when it happened.

Why should I hate someone because of a war that happened before either of us was born? Click To Tweet

There is no reason for us to carry on the animosity that the generation before us won’t let go of. There is no reason for us to pass it down to our own children. Contrary to popular belief, ending this animosity does not mean erasing history or discounting the lives that were once lost. You can have love for a country, for its people and its culture, without being in support of everything its government has done.

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My sister-in-law is, among many other wonderful things, Indian, and this surprises so many people. Every time someone is surprised, it both upsets and pleases me. It upsets me to know that love between two people from different places is so uncommon that it comes as a shock, but it pleases me to know that my family is a living example of how beautiful that love can be.

I am American. I am Pakistani. I am Indian. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Aafia Syed

Aafia Syed

Aafia is pursuing a Master's in Early Childhood Special Education at Bank Street College of Education. She is vocal about her personal challenges with mental illness and believes in bringing an end to both cultural and religious taboos. Her goals for the future include seeing Hamilton on Broadway, overcoming her own crippling stage-fright, and contributing to the destruction of the patriarchy.

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