I live in my parents’ Pakistani motherland. My one remaining parent and sibling live in America, and it confuses everyone here. There are plenty of articles out there about second-generation immigrant children making brief visits to their parents’ home countries.
However, for those of us who have made the decision to leave the U.S. and to live in our parents’ countries for an indefinite or short period of time, the narrative varies.
1. You keep hoping your accent is less noticeable and your English to Urdu translations make sense when you say them aloud
I do not hear my American accent, and sometimes I wish someone could play it back to me in a recording. But a small part of me burns when someone giggles at the way my Urdu sounds and then immediately acts like I do not know the language. I studied it and actually know how to read and write too, darn it! In addition, at times when I am not sure how to express myself or my American sarcasm, I try to translate it. Most of the time, I see a blank look on the native Urdu listener’s face. Other times it is met with laughter, and I tell myself that I just might be starting a new slang trend in the Urdu language! Maybe I need to try watching more Pakistani dramas so I can keep listening to Urdu.
Never mind, I think I’ll pass on that.
2. Everyone asks you if you feel “adjusted” to Pakistan
I risk sounding like a douche when I say that there are too many things I can never get used to here.
I will never get used to line jumping nor the gross amounts of open dumping and disregard for the environment. The churning in my stomach when my husband is not around me in certain settings that are dominated by men makes me feel like a weakling. Everything that reminds me to remember my place in Pakistan simply because I have a vagina makes me sick. In many other places in the world where I have traveled as a solo woman, I am ready to sing Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women,” but I feel the difficulty magnified here too much to do so.
I try to ignore all of it for my own self-care and sanity, but that does not mean I accept it. And hey, I am driving now in this country by myself, so at least I can let Destiny’s Child blare through my speakers!
3. When people ask you how you deal with staring men in public, you realize there is no real answer
In the beginning, the staring irked me. I never understood what there was to stare at. When people told me that I had to cover this and that part of my body or spread out my dupatta (scarf) further across my chest, I would listen to them. I would keep on scanning my body to wonder if something was prominent. Was I too colorful? Was there some weird symbol tattooed on my forehead? Despite trying to fix it all, forehead included, I continued to feel uncomfortable. I decided to give in to my armchair sociologist analysis and conclude that the patriarchy and intense gender segregation gave way to “eye fu*****.”
If I ever wanted to feel mobile and independent in this country I had to ignore it and let go of any shame of simply being a woman.
4. Some South Asian Americans who have not visited the motherland in over ten years, try to tell you what “desi culture” is all about
Me in India: this country is beyond redemption
Me everywhere else: I have chutney in my veins, we discovered zero, I rode elephants to school, Ravi Shankar is my distant uncle. Chicken Tikka Masala for lyfe. https://t.co/dtqWBZg8Xe
— FlyingSam (@Naa_Cheese) November 27, 2017
Aside from Pakistani dramas, Indian Bollywood movies, and some politics, few diaspora South Asians have any desire to live in the motherland. When I speak to people who have not visited in over ten years I am surprised by how frozen they are in the past with no context of what Pakistan (or even India) is like today. I can understand why most do not visit or give living here a try. But I do not understand how South Asian families back in my American home still expect their children to maintain this static culture. Living here has made me realize that I do not want to impose any of this cultural baggage on any kids I have.
The gaajar ka halwa (a sweet dish made of carrots) and beautiful Urdu poetry can stay though!
5. You stop feeling flattered when people tell you that your American accent will help you in basically everything.
I understand my privilege, but I do not like capitalizing on it. A weird sense of postcolonial discomfort began forming as I realized that the global dominance of English has an unfair advantage. Here is a prime example: I once sat through a group interview for a job with an internationally-funded donor. One of the candidates had to speak English when I knew he could better express himself in Urdu. This was a job in Pakistan and he was sitting with only Pakistani professionals that all understood Urdu. While my Urdu may be funny, I had no issues sitting through the interview in Urdu and understanding his points.
6. Even on days when negativity feels too easy in Pakistan, you are grateful for the character building.
While I ask myself what I am still doing in Pakistan, I remember all of the great friends I have made. While I thought it would be difficult to find my tribe of strong women, I developed it over time. I see positive shifts in this society regardless of how slow they may seem to others. I am proud of the thick skin I have developed to deal with situations that once seemed impossible, especially when I only visited.
Living in my parents’ home country has not been “going back to my roots” as one might imagine. It is living in a new place, but looking like the people around me, more than anything.
I see my American-ness much more prominently in Pakistan than when I am back home.