I’ve lived life being shamed for the things I love about my culture and the things that made me different because of my ethnicity. I even started to distance myself from it slowly throughout the years but it wasn’t until recently that I started to embrace it.
When I was little, I’d twirl around in my shalwar kameez while listening to Bollywood songs. I’d admire the colors and jump at the chance to show them off at cultural events. I’d attempt to wear a headscarf multiple times throughout elementary and middle school.
But that was all gradually torn to shreds. I eventually stopped admiring the colors of my dresses or noticing the way they flowed around my feet. I replaced Bollywood songs with Rihanna and Lady Gaga. All those attempts at wearing a headscarf would end in my removing it within a few days, the questions and stares overwhelming because of increasing sensitivity.
Being a teenager and being different, as most people know, is an open invitation for social disaster. I don’t think other kids even realized what it did to me when they joked about my mustache being like a grown man’s, or about how boys said my arms had supposedly more hair than their bodies. I couldn’t tell people about my music taste because that’s what decided how cool you were too.
So, I went through most of middle school and the beginning of high school with my head down and my hair covering as much as my face as I could get it to.
But only after visiting Pakistan did I start to warm to my identity. I even started wearing hijab permanently by the next year.
Because even after everything, I still felt deeply connected to the country. My memories of it are some of the most valuable ones that I hold.
My favorite one had to do with one of the evening prayers. It was when I was on the roof of my uncle’s house one day looking out across a field of light grass and the sun just waiting to set. The air was completely still.
People inside the houses were starting to turn on all the lights and cover up the food in preparation for maghrib prayer. The kids were being shouted at to come back inside.
Everything was frozen for a little while almost as if in anticipation for when a hundred different voices calling the adhan would break through the silence and echo around every house, building, office and school for miles around.
People who visit Pakistan will know what I mean when I say the air feels like it’s full of something ancient. It’s almost charged with it. Especially during maghrib time.
Every square inch of the land I was standing on had felt the pressure of children’s feet kicking up the dust as they played cricket, or had at some point been covered with a rug soon followed by a forehead touched down in prayer. Families gathered to drink tea together on this land and rose petals were thrown down in celebration of weddings and Eid celebrations.
There were thousands of lives all woven into one.
And my life was one of them.
I had picked flowers when I was little, not far from this house. They were tiny pink ones and white ones that we’d grab by the stems and spin in little circles. I remember tea on the roof tops and flying kites in a wind so strong my cousin had to grab onto me to stop me from flying up myself. And I remember a photo my mother had of her with little me in my late grandfather’s arms. A vine of bright flowers was draped on a wall behind us. In the edge of the picture, my aunts and uncles are laughing and smiling. Everyone was glowing.
Both countries are a part of my identity. My memories are made of evergreen trees, chai and coffee, kite flying and hiking. I am of both Seattle, WA and Karachi, Pakistan. And my life is a fabric of the red white and blue of America and the white and green of Pakistan. It forever will be no matter what words and actions people may use to steal them away from me.