When I came to America in 2013, I was fourteen years old and had no knowledge of cultures outside of the one I grew up in. I was naive and used to live in my own little fantasy world. I still kinda do. My made up characters are a better interaction then most real people I know. It’s like in my world I have full control.
But coming here was a rough experience on its own. Catching that flight from Benazir Bhutto airport to JFK was a real struggle. Having to figure out where to go and how to get everything done was complicated. I remember the excitement that bubbled inside of me when I saw the airport. It was a chance to start all over again. A chance to make new friends. But that excitement vanished as soon as the lady in customs touched me all over. The worst was in Dubai (or maybe it was England I don’t remember) when that lady made me take off my shirt and hijab and gave me a disgusted look. It’s that wire in your bra- she tried to defend herself. I never felt so violated in my life. It’s weird though how unconsciously small little things sit in the back of your mind. I hate wired bras. But she made me feel like a criminal, like I was actually a terrorist who had connections with Al-qaeda and was going to blow up the plane. I was afraid but more than that I was ashamed. Ashamed of my brown skin tone. Ashamed of my accent. Ashamed of the shalwar kameez I wore. That whole plane ride was filled with anxiety and anger. And seeing my mom cry on the seat next to mine added to the charm. On our stop they put those SSSS on our boarding passes and we were checked thrice, as if we had drugs implanted in our organs. They even made us open up our bags in the middle of the lobby. Big bulky officers were surrounding us like we ran a drug cartel.
But all that anxiety, anguish and anger faded away as soon as I saw my dad. His smile was as big as the horizon and as wide as the ocean. His embrace was so comforting that I didn’t mind the journey. I would’ve walked through hell for him if I had to. He wore those same skin brown pants and that boxed blue shirt. And I remember thinking that nothing can hurt me as long as I have my dad with me.
We were coming back to America after six years. Everything was the same except it all seemed smaller. My dad took us back to our old apartment in NYC, queens. It was September and for the whole first month my dad took us out. We went to Bryant park, battery park, statue of liberty, union square park, central park, Time Square, Empire state building, Rockefeller center, The Met, The Natural museum of history and many more. My dad wasn’t worried about school. He enrolled us in mid-October. My kids are smart and they’ll catch up- he would say to my mom. He was right. We outsmarted everyone in class. High school was hard but not academically. It was hard socially. I was ashamed of wearing shalwar kameez so I forced myself to wear jeans. I altered my accent to match that of my peers. Instead of speaking Urdu and Punjabi I started speaking English (which is a whole other story on its own).
But it was mom and dad and their sacrifices that helped us get to where we are. My parents gave away their youth so we could have a better life. My mom left behind her life, her career, her siblings, and her parents so my siblings and I could have a better future. My dad gave away his dream of becoming a lawyer so we could embroil our own dreams.
I started a blog for my dad. His life is pretty interesting. Yes he got shot in the head in his skull. Yes he was kissed by death but life pulled him back. You can find him here.