I was three when my parents and I ventured off a plane and into America for the first time. We had thought that to some degree we were prepared for the new world, yet found that nothing could have set us up for what awaited us. Being young and naïve, I was unaware of the horrors taking place outside the safety of my home. It wasn’t until I started school that I began to see that I was different from my classmates and they wasted no time in bringing it up.
At first it began with trivial things: making fun of the threadwork of my shalwar kameez or the henna on my palms. I did everything I could to change my appearance; I bought pairs of denim jeans and took so much delight in putting blonde highlights in my hair. Slowly their taunts made their way from my appearance to my mother’s head scarf and the color of my skin. I believe I was in the playground playing tag when I was called a terrorist for the first time. As everyone around me erupted into giggles over the “joke” I felt the dread settle itself into the bottom of my stomach knowing this was just the beginning.
I had been taught the principles of Islam and Pakistani culture at home all my life as my parents did not want me to forget about my origins. At times it was hard to find a balance between the norms of Pakistani society and the American one but I was doing my best to try to fit into both. I learnt enough about Pakistan from my family, but in reality I didn’t remember much about it.
Everything that I thought I knew I had only heard and my classmates were in the same situation. What a child is taught in its household by parents is what they initially think is right or wrong unless they grow up and see elsewise. I knew my religion wasn’t what others thought it to be but I watched helpless as jokes and taunts about my faith were used as punchlines in conversations over the years. Everything changed when I turned 14 and visited Pakistan for the first time.
For me going back to Pakistan was going back to the home I always knew I had but never thought of as home. I fell in love with everything about the land, seeing people talk in Urdu at the shops or seeing traditional food made on the streets was my own type of fantasy. During my trip I posted quite a few pictures on social media and the response from my classmates was shocking. I returned home and was greeted with so many compliments. The same people who had been joking before I left about me getting bombed in Pakistan were now telling me that everything about my vacation looked so elegant.
After that trip I began to understand more, that children of color were the first to be picked on for being different. But the people that were picking on them were not just doing it out of pure hatred; it was simply because some did not know any better. People didn’t think that they liked Middle Eastern or South Asian culture because they didn’t know enough about it. As the years passed, I watched more and more people grow out of the views they once believed in. Little children who once said racist remarks were now young adults who knew better.
However, the election of Donald Trump was like a slap to the face. I remember screaming in my living room watching election results on television and all I could think about was how my brothers are going to have an even harder time in school than I did. That night I decided I was going to write something for not only the United States of America but for the entire world. I was sick and tired of constantly having to defend Islam and Pakistan against people who had been brainwashed to think they were evil. Two weeks before graduating from high school I published “Finding Home”, a collection of poetry on my perspective of what it was like to grow up as a Pakistani teen in America.
I hope my writing will remind people that there’s hope for the future despite all the hatred that prevails. It’s important to me because I know thousands of immigrant children go through what I went through and they have no reason to be ashamed or scared. The next generation is rising, ready to enforce change for the children.