Born in the U.S.A (Ultimately Strive for Assimilation)

| September 24, 2017 | 0 Comments

I remember cola candy flavored lips. They were mine.

The lips, that is.

I’d bite them with my teeth and suck out the remaining granules of sugar and artificial additives from the flavored gloss forming on my lips. We bought them at the local convenience store in Karachi, Pakistan. I was twelve — excuse me, “twelve and a half,” as my younger counterpart would say. As if that somehow made all the difference.

We were visiting a lot of family friends at the time. I would shrug my shoulders and answer with a definitive “I don’t know” at questions that pertained specifically to me.

“Do you like to sing?” “I don’t know.”

“What would you like to eat?” “I don’t know.”

“Is it spicy?” “No.”

I refused to let them see me as different or lesser than. Tween pride and aspirations to fit-in wouldn’t allow it — even for something as silly as this: The chicken tikka pizza was in no way spicy. Different? Yes. But as I’ve learned, identity, even in the context of pizza, is not just something you define. It’s how other people perceive and ascribe you to be.

“It’s spicy for her. It’s spicy for her! Get her some water.”

I surreptitiously glanced at my aunt. All I got for my efforts was a mollifying smile urging me to not to get offended.

I was a sensitive child.

I still am.

I came back to America, excited for the school year to start so I could tell everyone of my adventures and give them their presents. They accepted the gifts and ignored my stories. Karachi, Pakistan isn’t a Paris, France or London, England. It is unrelated to American culture, and therefore unimportant. No bougie stores or terrace cafés to gush about.

And it was at that point that I realized fitting in was pointless. I wouldn’t fit in here or over there unless whoever I was talking to wanted me to. I was not American enough for my hometown and not Pakistani enough for Karachi. I had to be one or the other, lest I confused everyone with my complex identity and traits.

In that realization, I decided to screw it and find people who would understand. The close friends I had from the eighth grade to the end of high school were Indian-American, Latina-American, and Korean-American. Somewhat different cultures, but they got it. Before this, I didn’t really know how fun it was to talk about family and culture or how cathartic it was to have someone relate to your problems or have friends that wouldn’t make fun of you or pity you when you couldn’t eat during lunch because you were fasting. I didn’t know that when I laughed to the point of tears, I heaved and squealed and had to gasp for air. I had substance. I had a concrete identity that people accepted.

That is, until college.

I had thought that if I found a community similar to mine, I wouldn’t have to deal with everything I went through in my hometown and could just skip to the part with unflatteringly uncontrolled laughter. My hopes were shattered by my third week at BU when I was questioned by people everywhere, even from my own ethnic community.

“Why don’t you wear the hijab?” About my Muslim identity.

“Whatever. Aren’t India and Pakistan the same thing?” About my Pakistani identity.

“Where are you really from?” About my American identity.

Then another realization hit me. The memories I held of my friends from high school were real and bright, but we first gravitated towards one another out of survival. Similar ethnicities made them understand me, but it was their personalities and philosophies that ultimately led to some friendships and let others wither away.

I’m still in the process of re-establishing that surety I once held before college. But this time I’m focusing less on the fleeting people around me and more on how I react to the general public as a whole. I already have strong foundations in how I perceive myself to be, but that is not the entirety of my identity. What I’ve come to understand is that in some ways I, too, will change. Nothing is ever set in stone.

I don’t eat Cola-Candy all that much anymore. Too much and it makes me sick.



feature photo credit: photo credit: Maëlick Statue of Liberty via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Food and Travel, Reflections

Soubhana Asif

About the Author ()

Soubhana Asif is a junior at Boston University majoring in Biology and double minoring in Arabic and Medical Anthropology. "Have I said too much? There's nothing more I can think of to say to you. But all you have to do is look at me to know that every word is true."

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