“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Aurora, CO.”
“No, but where are you REALLY from?”
Oh, you mean what’s my ethnicity? Or perhaps, where my family originates? Those would be adequate questions, if only you had any interest in truly wanting to get to know me. Even then, my being of Pakistani origin would only matter in relation to your predisposition of what a “Pakistani” is. Unless you asked because you’re Pakistani and wanted to connect to me on a cultural level, I’m sure you already have a pretty good idea of what kind of person I am…
Pakistani = Muslim, Terrorist, Oppressed, Jihadi, Un-American, Anti-Liberal, Homophobic, Extremist, Illegal Immigrant
… And although I’ve been in Colorado since I was six months old, I’m a United States citizen, and I know English better than most people, I am to you, in the rawest form, “Pakistani.”
It’s not to say that I don’t take pride in my Pakistani origin or that this scenario even applies to ignorance depicted in all people. This is perhaps the subtler form I’ve experienced, next to having been told that I need to go back to my country or being called a terrorist, which happens less often. Growing up I only identified as Pakistani because the American aspect of me was almost a given. Attending schools where the minorities today were the majority, with my high school of 2500 students 32 percent identified as black, 31 percent Latino, and 25 percent who identified as white.
Perhaps it wasn’t so much that the “American” aspect of ourselves didn’t matter, but because the composition was always so diverse, it was prideful to also belong to something other, in my case, Pakistan. Our belonging to the overall community was based on belonging to a separate group and being one through our differences. It sounds, upon writing it, quite a utopian environment, but we had our individual struggles, from cultural diasporas to poverty and teen pregnancies, or even just the added stress of an emotionally imbalanced teenager struggling to discover oneself.
I come to understand in my time at Boulder that perhaps it isn’t that this is a liberal area that allows people to stray away from religion and culture, but perhaps it’s because being religious or being different is not the accepted norm. You are more likely to fit in with a group of people if you “are open to all ideas,” but not open to being particularly passionate about who you really are.
Until now I’ve been inclined to say that coming to CU Boulder has made me realize how truly different I was. This isn’t necessarily true though. I’ve always acknowledged my Islamic Pakistani identity, but it was upon coming to CU that I first realized this identity, that I always prided on was unappreciated in many parts of our nation. But it’s important to note that this is not a Boulder problem alone, but a problem that continues to plague this nation. Once being an outspoken and confident individual, like many, I’ve found myself silenced by the burden of belonging to another nation.