It’s a month full of anniversaries!
As of August 28th, I’ve been living in America for two-thirds of my life. As each day goes by, I am reminded that I am less and less of a Canadian and more and more of an… American? Ay!
My 22nd birthday was a sad one because it marked the day that my Canadianness would soon be overshadowed by my Americanness. And now, here I am where I am, two-thirds American*
For someone who claims to despise nationalism, I really talk a lot about being Canadian. That’s kinda hypocritical, eh?
But let me tell you something: had I remained in Canada, my Canadianness would have been unspoken. Irrelevant. I wouldn’t bring it up during every Q&A. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would not have been an object of a Q&A. In Toronto? Puh-leez! My kind are a dime a dozen in that city! Heck, who knows if I would ever have turned to blogging in the first place had I remained in Canada. There may not have even been a Mr. Rafia! Or, he would have been a different Mr. Rafia… or worse, I might have been a Mrs. _________.
I’m well aware of the fact that in the America that I live in, I’m somewhat of an anomaly. I look different. I act different (and not just because I am obsessed with cows). And I openly embrace it. Gotta pray? I will pray in a stairwell, if I need to.
Despite my well-intended efforts of refusing to be tokenized, to some extent, I have benefited from being different… in certain circles. In other circles, I might be told to go back to my country. And I’d be like, “Sure thing, buddy. At least my country guarantees health care for all. I’d gladly go back. Where do you think I’m from anyway? Just curious.”
By the way, I’m not really offended when people ask me where I am really from. I jump at the chance to tell them and confuse them even more. But really, I get it. I’m brown, so therefore I’m not “originally” from here. I mean, it’s true. I can trace my genealogy without having to go on a website. My parents are immigrants to this continent and they retained their culture and religion when raising their children. So, to say that my experiences are just like everyone else’s is not entirely true. I’d wager that most Americans did not do half-rozas as a seven year old or eat (delicious) Hyderabadi food for dinner everyday (it’s all about the food for me). When hyphenated Americans get upset at being posed this question, they are implicitly agreeing that having ties to another country makes you less than. But why should it? You have no control over where you are born. Why should one country of birth be privileged over another? I don’t even get upset anymore, all thanks to the BJP, when people assume I am Pakistani. Oh Lord, what has happened?
But that gets me to the question: is there a single type of American? You can look at it through the lens of race, immigration, religion, etc. And if you do that, the question is difficult to answer. If nationality/citizenship/residence is all that matters, then we who live here are all equally American. But one cannot ignore the history (and present) of this country, because there is an implicit idea of what a real American looks like. I mean, just look at all the demographic polls and the language they use. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, sometimes Jews, sometimes even Orthodox Christians are lumped in together as “other.” I understand that collectively we make up less than a quarter of the population, probably even less, but when you read those reports, it feels like your existence is contingent.
With all that said, this past Wednesday was a commencement of sorts, as it was my first day of class in… American Studies. Yes, really. Crazy, eh? What are the odds? 8/28 is the day I moved to America. 8/28 is also the day that I start studying America officially, whatever that means. As much as the Canadian in me wants to resist it, my experience of being a Muslim has been shaped by living in America. Had I remained in Canada, I am not sure if I would have felt the compulsion to wear the headscarf at the time that I did, or even at all. The post-2015 U.S. political climate only reinforced my commitment to wear the headscarf. (It’s not all about the headscarf by the way. But as I was reminded by our guest khateeb at jumu’ah yesterday, going out in public wearing a headscarf really is a brave act. Even if you’ve never been personally subject to Islamophobic attacks, there’s always a chance that you may be.)
American Studies is probably a weird angle to study Muslim Americans, but I have very practical reasons for going this route, which I won’t get into now since all this is really an experiment. Regardless, what I hope to study is how committed Muslims practice their faith in a space with so many external and internal pressures (not all of which are bad). That’s not to say that Muslims in other countries don’t face their own pressures. But my professional goals are informed by my personal challenges and hopes — I can’t imagine it any other way. I am reminded by what my M.A adviser told me back in 2013: The best academics are really autobiographers in disguise. We’ll see if that happens. But I know with all the things in my life kind of snowballing together, I couldn’t not give it a shot. In the end, AllahuAlim. But I don’t want to live my life with regret.
* How very sadly ironic now that I think of it, as there was a time when people of African descent were legally considered three-fifths of a person in this country. I’m not conflating the two by any means, but now it makes me think I need to be more careful about what words I use.