Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Hyphenated Identity - The Journey of Self-Discover!

I was born and raised in America, therefore I am American.  My parents were born and raised in Pakistan which means my roots are in Pakistan.  All of this combines to make me a Pakistani-American: a hyphenated identity.  I wasn’t always comfortable or accepting of my hyphenated identity, but I learned that being hyphenated didn’t make me less of one or the other but rather it made me stronger and prouder of both identities.  It made me more of a unique person and it allowed me to find myself in this world.

As a young person, everyone is trying to figure out who they are and trying to fit in with their surroundings.  We all just want to be like everyone else, and an individual identity is not always the best thing when you are young.  I had the same feelings when I was young; I wanted to be like everyone else but it was hard to figure out to which group I should identify with.  I thought I would fit in with my American peers, since we all were born and raised in the same city and we all went to the same school; but they didn’t have the roots I did, they didn’t speak a different language at home, and they didn’t have long-distance calls at odd-hours in the night from relatives across the world.  My Pakistani-side was making me different amongst my American peers, so I figured that if I can’t fit with my American side then I should be able to fit in with my peers in Pakistan.  After all, we looked the same, ate similar food, and spoke a common language; but they weren’t exposed to the diversity America offered me, they didn’t think in English like I did, and they were mad about cricket (I sport I never completely understood until recently).   So there I was, stuck in the middle of a non-identity trying to figure out who I was and then I discovered it: hyphenation.  I can both at the same time and that is ok.

Some people are not comfortable with hyphenation; to them it means beings half of something instead of being completely whole.  For example some Americans think that because I am proud of my Pakistani background and acknowledge it through the hyphenation, they are justified in stating that I am not fully American.  Because I am proud of speaking a different language at home, eating garam pakoras on a cold rainy day, or spending every 3rd summer in Pakistan (suffering in the heat and loadshedding but enjoying the company of my cousins) this means that I am not completely American.  According to them, because I am not completely American I don’t have the same rights or privileges as them and should ‘go back to where I came from’.  This perspective was very harsh the first time I heard but it wasn’t that surprising; what surprised me was hearing the same type of sentiment from Pakistanis.  Some Pakistanis believe that because I am proud of where I was born, proud of where I was raised, and proud of my Americaness (according to them that meant ‘being loud and free to do whatever I want’) this meant that I cannot be Pakistani and cannot partake in any activities that show my proudness for Pakistan.  For these reasons, many people choose one or the either instead of hyphenation but I didn’t want to choose; I wanted to be proud of both equally and at the same time.    

I finally decided not to listen to what people have to say and learned how to proud of what makes me.  I am proud of my Pakistani roots, as that is the country that educated my father and gave him the opportunity to from the village to medical school.  Pakistan is also the country that gave my mother a strong sense of national pride, which survived with her as she traveled over continents and oceans to America, and which she transferred to her children all those years later.  I am also proud of being an American, as this is the country that gave me the opportunity to be whoever I want to be regardless of who I know or didn’t know.   America is also the country where justice can be served legally (and most times fairly) and where doing the right thing does help you get to the next level.   I am proud to have Pakistani roots; I am proud to be born and raised in America.  I am proud to be a Pakistani –American; hyphenated and complete.

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