Though its been years, my whole life practically, I am still surprised if and when my parents speak poorly of their native,
Pakistan. “Pakistan koi rehne ki jaga hai?” (Is Pakistan any place to live?) is often one of my mother’s responses when asked about ever going back to live in Pakistan. Recently, in a speech given at my sister’s engagement dinner in Karachi, my father spoke rather comically about his experiences as a young newcomer to the United States and the differences he observed with awe and frustration. He also reminisced about all of the things that he and millions of other immigrants leave behind of their childhood and youth in Pakistan. He spoke of the dirt roads and back alleys where children in raggedy clothes play cricket with passion; of the elderly parents and sweet sisters who dote on their sons and brothers (and daughters and sisters); of groups of young boys huddling together over cigarettes at dusk; of Eid, of weddings, of friends, of family, of home. Along with feeling the intense sense of loss that his words relayed, I also felt…left out.
I often regret that I cannot hold the same grievances as well as nostalgia for our lost country — that love/hate relationship that my parents and even grandparents have with Pakistan. Having spent my adolescent years in the Middle East, I went through a gap of time where my ethnicity held little meaning for me. It wasn’t until I returned to the United States and became more aware of my identity that I began to think once again of myself as a Pakistani. On a personal level, I had little to no negative feelings about Pakistan at that time, nor do I now, primarily because memories of my childhood there bring back nothing but warm feelings. Unlike my parents, I did not develop there into adulthood nor did I witness the difficulties and hardships of life in an unstable country.
Now, when I hear the opinions of “real” Pakistanis on Pakistan, I feel unsure as to whether I can state and hold my own opinions without offending them or without being criticized. Similarly, though I am an American citizen, I am judged more harshly as a South Asian if I voice an unfavorable opinion of the United States. In truth, I am wistful about what I have lost by not having one home country. Just one place that I can allocate myself to; one place I can criticize and ridicule, but defend and love all the same. As I get older, I become more and more aware of the struggles my parents undertook in the process of their migration (upon migration). Yet, I still envy them their ownership of their native country. The concretely defined borders that surround their identities, as I remain fluidly, not here nor there.