It’s difficult at times, seeing them and knowing that they’ll never understand. I can’t fault them for it but it’s still the truth surrounding them. I never had the luxury of growing up here and I will never understand the way that they truly see me or my family. That I cannot help. I can’t say that I fault them because they don’t have any reason to view me any other way than the way that they’ve been told to view me. My skin, my accent, my religion: they’re all factors and they only view me differently because I’m simply so much different from anything that they’re accustomed to. My children understand more of their language than I ever will, and sometimes, I feel so simultaneously proud and angry when they start speaking to each other in such flawless English. I can find the pieces often times to understand but they’re acclimating so comfortably that it astounds me. Yet, even still, there are problems: kids as school who don’t understand, teachers who are afraid of them. Pakistan was no place to raise my children, but the same wars we fled from are being fought in different forms here as well.
For me, the United States was always an escape that I dreamed of obtaining. Since the war broke out in 1999, I knew that it was the only place that I would escape to, if I was ever able to leave. I remember it so vividly. I remember when our soldiers broke across the Line of Control, and spread out throughout the Kargil district. (Nanda, 1999) I remember how quickly India responded but how slow those two months were when India was retaking the area. The rest of the world was watching with bated breath, slowly forcing us to reach a diplomatic solution because who wanted nuclear war? We wouldn’t budge, though. The economy faltered and before long, so did our forces. (Nanda, 1999) The government refused to accept the loss of our people or what the war had caused, so the conflict continued until it couldn’t any longer.
I remember looking at my wife and our two infant boys, wondering what this country would make of them. That was the first night that I researched the price of plane tickets to the United States. They were certainly expensive and before I realized it, I started setting money aside unintentionally. A little here, a little there and then, I was looking up the price of rent each month and the areas that were predominantly Pakistani or Asian, in general. Chicago, California and New York were all on the radar but with the limited English that I spoke, I wasn’t sure that such large cities would be appropriate. Then, I met Jaleel. “Come to Texas,” he said. “There’s a community of us, and it’s growing. I can find you work with my cousin. Simple stuff, desk job. Easy living.” (Taus-Bolstad, 2005)
That was all it took. After a few long nights of convincing my wife six more months of saving, we were gone. Jaleel knew how hard I worked; he worked in a different section of the same firm as me. He put in a good word and I started almost immediately, doing accounting for a small, mostly Pakistani company in Dallas. (Taus-Bolstad, 2005) Work was good at first and life was simple. I remember dinner with Jaleel, his wife and mine, thinking about the future and how beautiful the city looked at night. It was so peaceful then. Within eight months, the company’s stock would fall and so would the Twin Towers. (Morgan, 2009) Both of these things were like a brick to the sternum by themselves, but they compounded upon each other and felt like an anvil crashing down on me all at once. The world stood still that day. It was as if the whole city was moving in slow motion. It took me back to Pakistan, and the feeling I had when the country went to war. I never knew why it happened, so the feeling that coursed through me was equal parts confusion and fear. I didn’t fear for myself but my children. I had seen the effects of hate and fear, and I knew that this would catalyze something terrifying within us all.
I feared for my children, Ali and Hasan. Ali had just started elementary school at the time and the next few years were quite the adjustment. There were so many questions, most of which I had no idea how to answer. He couldn’t understand why the other boys called him the names that they did, or why their parents wouldn’t let him hang out with some of them. Granted, there were other Pakistanis around at first but when Jaleel’s cousin closed the doors on his firm, we had to move away from the only real Pakistani community we had known. By then, my English had made some improvements but not many, so I spent most of my time just trying to learn and listen to my boys when they came home. The jobs were always varied and during those years, it was so difficult to find anything worth holding onto or pursuing. I couldn’t fault them for not understanding me or my culture, or even the fact that there were no Pakistanis involved with the hijacking. (Morgan, 2009) It didn’t matter. Most avoided me when I walked the streets and I could see them whispering to one another when I was on the metro. It was exhausting and still is, at times.
I’m much older now and while things haven’t changed much, they’ve improved some. My boys have it easy here. They’re in college and they’ve found groups to attach to; so much so that they’re more American than they are Pakistani. We still speak Urdu at times, but their English is arguably better so they speak that when they can. Sometimes I have trouble keeping up and it frustrates me, but I’m so proud all at the same time that I don’t allow it to interfere with that sense of pride that swells deep within my stomach. In my sons, I’ve seen my hopes materialize and the reasons that I came to America to begin with are growing in them. They’re so mature now. Ali’s on his last year and Hasan his second, and both have such great plans for the future.
They constantly have some new device or “app” to show me and what takes them minutes to learn about their phones and laptops, I spend days trying to achieve. We still have the glances and the whispers, but I have them and they know themselves more because of it. They feel proud of their difference and my wife and I could not be more proud of them for it. Ali even has a job with a tech company lined up after he graduates and Hasan is preparing for an internship with a hospital. I’ve been hard on them in the past and I know it, but it’s for the best and I won’t regret that. They know it as well, and all of the sacrifices that were made for these opportunities so they cherish it all the same and never allow it to go unnoticed.
- Morgan, Matthew (2009). The Impact of 9/11 on Politics and War: The Day that Changed Everything?. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 222.
- Nanda, Ravi (1999). Kargil: A Wake Up Call. Vedams Books. pp. 126-142.
- Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2005). Pakistanis in America. Lerner Publications. p. 104