Inside the mind of an immigrant

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.

21 thoughts on “Inside the mind of an immigrant

  1. For many years I worked at JFK and SEA, with an international airline. I can’t tell you how I hated seeing people treated by security, Customs and Immigration. It made me embarrassed and I used to think how hard it must be for such people no to just turn around and say “I’m going home”. There were lots of reasons people couldn’t do that. I always hoped that the people who were so mistreated didn’t assume we were all such unfeeling beastly human beings. To be fair I’ve seen people badly treated by “the authorities” in other countries. As a child of 12 I myself stood in front of an immigration agent in a SE Asian country and watched him rip up the forms I had filled out (I knew how to do them, they weren’t wrong, he was just being a bastard) and throw them on the floor. The person meeting me was actually an ambassador of another country. He was late getting there but when he did, what a change in attitude. Anyway, I’ve always remembered how I felt, so even though it’s a tiny piece of how you must have felt, I empathize and I pray for a day when people can be accepted for who they are, not how they look or what their beliefs and cultures may be.
    I came here at 16 and it was tough for me too, for very different reasons. I wish you the best and your family.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing! I never thought of it form the perspective of someone who worked in an airport. But that did change my perspective! The power of writing can do wonders. I agree maybe we need to stop assuming everyone is the same ( I do that too and it’s a horrible thing to do). And I’m sorry you had to go through that at such a young age. No child should go through that! Hope you’re doing well. 👍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I think my experience may have made me more understanding of the passengers who I had to help, particularly the young children by themselves. At least I hope so!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can just hope that one day there won’t be boundaries, borders, need of checking anyone for just travelling and we treat everyone just as human..yet I know it’s not that much easy, not possible in our era actually… haven’t visited places but yet every girl has this pain and so does every immigrant. 🌷🌼🌷

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Babe, I want to check out your Abbu’s parable. Upload the stories. I think I am having a good time reading your blog posts. I love stories that are true, and yours is something interesting. Your struggle is real. 👍
    I caught you over instagram. Would connect to you there. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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