I have been living in the United States since I was a few months old, so naturally, I call it my home.
As a Pakistani-American, I reside in the States for 95% of the time. The other 5% is my vacation period in Pakistan or Canada. Having parents that grew up in Pakistan, I have always felt a responsibility to represent my Pakistani roots along with my American lifestyle. It has been nothing close to smooth-sailing. My siblings and I are part of the first generation to experience this in our family. Something that is the hardest and that we struggle with to this day is the language barrier.
For starters, you’re always embarrassed that you don’t fit in.
My parents feel like they deserve to keep a part of their homeland alive through language. However, the people here expect them to assimilate. As for me, I speak to my parents in Urdu at home and often in public as well, but there have been times that we have received weird looks. The weird looks do not bother my parents, because, in their eyes, they’re rightful citizens. And you know, freedom of speech…
The looks get to me sometimes, because I am human, and I am allowed to feel insecure. After all, things like racism still exist.
Then, of course, there’s the constant questioning:
“What language do you speak at home?”
“Which language do you dream in?”
Since I am bilingual, I often get asked what language I think in or dream in by peers at work and school.
When I really sit down to think about this question, it’s pretty hard to answer. I have caught myself thinking and dreaming in both Urdu and English. I have noticed my choice of language depends on my environment and situation.
There was this one time I was on the phone with my husband while huddled up in the closet of my workplace. Naturally, our conversations consist of both languages. When I went back to my co-workers, I found myself speaking to them in Urdu without even realizing what I was doing.
Then, of course, there’s being judged for your accent.
Who thinks an accent is a British man or woman’s sexiest feature? Well, allow me to answer that, many of us do. While I may not have an accent, my parents do, and it breaks my heart to see them struggle to explain what they want. People snicker at them and make fun of them, because a South-Asian accent may not be as appealing as a British or French accent.
WHO MAKES THESE RULES?!
The need for a translator.
There are many things my parents still have trouble with even though they have been living in the United States for over twenty years. Whether it’s because they honestly cannot figure it out or they just do not want to learn, I do not mind being a good daughter and helping out. Making phone calls on their behalf is something I have become very fluent in. I have their personal information memorized to a tee, so when I am asked if they need a translator, I get pretty offended. Like, am I not good enough to translate a language I am a 100% fluent in? I get that I’m a Pakistani-American. American aspect hai. But Pakistani aspect bhi toh hai.
Oh, and of course. There’s constantly having to explain yourself.
Having to explain chai tea means the same thing to a room full of Americans can be quite a challenge. Naan bread isn’t a thing. They’re both the same thing. I mean, the least you can do is a bit of research, right? It’s actually pretty painful to see your language being butchered.
Additionally, if you EVER switch to Urdu while talking, be prepared to give a PowerPoint presentation about your culture. Not that it’s a bad thing. But the constant questioning and repetitve questions don’t make it the easiest task.
BUT, let’s not forget about the visits to Pakistan too.
You think Americans are annoying about this language stuff, but imagine what happens when I visit Pakistan. Every dawaat I attend, I am constantly asked to say a few words in English or have a conversation with my siblings in English. Being able to speak angrezi is not anything out of this world. Relax.
But honestly, this question DEFINITELY takes the cake:
“Do you speak Pakistani?”
No, I don’t know. It’s not a language. It’s a nationality. DO YOU SPEAK AMERICAN, MY AMREEKI DOST?!
Honestly, If I had a dollar or even a rupee for that matter for every time someone asked if I spoke Pakistani, I would be rich. Really rich.
Being a Pakistani-American, I’m caught somewhere in between the American Dream and Pakistani khayali pulao. It’s a struggle, and there are various aspects to this struggle, too. It’s more than just language. If you want to hear more about these struggles, let us know in the comments.
Cover image via latimes.com