Pakistanis choose between east and west
“America is big enough to accommodate all their dreams,” said the 44th President of the United States, and more importantly, the first African American to sit in office, Barack Hussein Obama.
It is hard to determine what is more impressive: the impactful statement on diversity, or the person who delivered it: the most powerful symbol of what that statement preaches.
Nonetheless, the American Dream has brought together cultures and races from all around the world, who have time and time again contributed to American society.
I come from a similarly distant land. I first set foot in Houston — my first glimpse at the United States — as an international student from Lahore, Pakistan, one year ago. Having been educated in a private international school, adjusting to the new environment was easy. In fact, I saw more similarities than differences between where I came from and where I was.
However, I came across numerous Pakistani Muslim students in Houston who suffer from dissociative identity disorder.
It was almost strenuous being oblivious to this unfortunate syndrome. Those afflicted spoke in fake accents and indulged in alcohol when around Americans while falsely claiming it was haram, meaning forbidden, while in the company of their supposedly sacred Muslim brothers and sisters.
Whether I came in contact with such people at the on-campus mosque for Friday Jummah prayers or at events for cultural organizations, I could tell that they were not completely comfortable in their own skin. Their lifestyle, habits, clothing, preferences, opinions and overall character vastly differed depending on who they were around.
In the depths of it all, they did not know who they were.
As someone who has held tightly onto her Pakistani Muslim identity and beliefs while simultaneously venturing into the American culture, their actions seemed purely hypocritical.
As it turned out, I was not the only one who felt this sentiment. Maria Yaqoob, an international student from Karachi, Pakistan, observed a similar double standard amongst Pakistani Muslims.
Yaqoob, a human nutrition and foods sophomore, thought their identity confusion deterred them from constructing a vision of who they really are.
“There is a lot of stuff happening due to peer pressure,” Yaqoob said. “People try to modify their personalities just to fit in. It makes me feel quite surprised and uncomfortable.”
Her first interaction with Pakistani Muslims, many of whom were Americans, was during her first week in Houston, at new student orientation. She said certain people were confused about whether they truly belonged to the West or the East and did certain things just for the sake of blending in with the Western crowd.
“I feel most of the people I met faced this problem more or less,” Yaqoob said. “Their background does affect it, but the changes between the two societies are so massive that it’s almost impossible to not get confused and form an unordinary personality which doesn’t completely fit in either boxes of the two cultures.”
She elaborated that the solution for those who face this dilemma would be to accept the American culture while staying true to their individuality. Yaqoob said they should adopt the changes that their original, moral values collaborate with.
Yaqoob said the UH community did try to bridge the gap between the two cultures, but more promotion of Pakistani culture would make Pakistani Muslims feel more confident. Moreover, students themselves need to feel proud of where they come from.
“There are still Pakistani people who are rigid in their beliefs and do not let any change reach close to them,” Yaqoob said. “Again, I feel that one should be open to changes and accept the ones that make one a better person as every culture has its own benefits and flaws.”
Despite the recent tarnishes on the face of American hospitality, the land of the melting pot has taken into its arms those who had the audacity to believe in the American Dream.
Such is the warmth of the land; it does not ask its inhabitants to change their culture, religion, thoughts and opinions. It simply embraces them, the way they are regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, caste or creed.
It is about time Pakistanis coming from overseas embraced themselves as well.
I. Bukhari is a print journalism sophomore and can be reached at [email protected].