What did others believe me to be? My English was unaccented, I gestured wildly when I spoke, and pants were my preferred attire. Sure, I was born in Kashmir , but I grew up in the States.
My name rolls about awkwardly on American tongues, always the wedge in my attempt to completely assimilate. People regard my scarf at an arm’s length, with curiosity. A foreign image. The old ideology of universality and brotherhood, the bonding between neighbors over the common Dream, no longer exists. We immigrated too late for that benefit.
My Kashmiri rolls about awkwardly on my American tongue, always the wedge in my attempt to completely assimilate. People regard my jeans at an arm’s length, with curiosity. A foreign image. Even if I adopt local wear, the little slips I make betray me. My direct approach, my relative independency. A girl should be more demure.
Where does this leave me? Thinking back to my school days, I recall reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning with my fellow classmates. It gave no mention of the variety of backgrounds that fused together to form the nation. It simply spoke of the promise we held, that of liberty and justice for all. The media hardly helps in that department, painting various pictures of the Muslim American. But what is this bizarre concept in the first place? Muslim American? What? What is that supposed to mean? Why can’t we all just be Americans, plain and simple? Why the need to go and complicate matters, to cause division. Every person wants the best for their family, household, and nation.
On the other end, politicians have wasted the last few decades in their constant attempts at describing ‘the Kashmiri nation’. What they fail to realize is that here, too, is a community of individuals with different ethnic origins brought together under the banner of a common home. Everyone is bogged down by a multitude of self-imposed caste systems, making it difficult for an individual to fraternize or even marry as per their will. We instill into each child the chains that prevent our freedom. Day and night we listen to voices that tell us over and over again that an end to all of this turmoil, a solution, is in sight. But never is the effort taken to cross party lines and join hands as one.
For me, I feel as though relatively few people listen to what I’d have to say, or my thoughts on some matter or another, be it an American or Kashmiri affair. I’d get skeptical looks from both ends, a slight pause before anyone would reply, and then a gentle reminder that I’m not really an American, or actually Kashmiri, you see. I fail to meet the required qualifications.
Americans bleed red, white, and blue; they were born and bred in the land of the free. They have ancestors who date back to the Revolution, have fought alongside Grant and Lee, saw the advent of the suffrage movement, and the establishment of equal rights. When the national anthem rings, tears fill their eyes in remembrance of all that their predecessors gave so that they could live the way they do today.
Kashmiris are a scrappy lot, who have lived under the heel of oppressive rule for some hundred of years; they were born and bred to seek freedom for their land. They have sought to bring about a revolution, fought against the tyrants that define the past twenty-odd years, saw the advent of AFSPA, and the deprivation of equal rights. When the adhan rings, tears fill their eyes in remembrance of all that they’ve given so that they may one day obtain felicity.
There are Kashmiris who call me a traitor, saying that I left when our country was in need. There are Americans who call me a terrorist, saying that I should return to my country. I’m left in the lurch, with nowhere to turn.
So let me toss national identity aside for a moment in favor of religious kinship. Maybe I’ll have better luck with that route. Now where would I find myself at one with the community if not in an Islamic state? Why not start with Pakistan , as after all, its existence is based on the hope of formation of an ideal country for Muslims to reside in. But the turmoil that is rampant in its streets hardly exudes the longed for peace of a joyous ummah. This will not do.
Perhaps, then, it is best to go back to where it all began. A return to Saudi, to start again with renewed vigor amidst your fellow brethren. Yet here, too, lingers traces of uneasiness, formed along the lines of reluctance to accept into their folds anyone who is not ethnically Arab, who, as some have pointed out to me in the past, were once non-believers or even pagan, and not amongst the chosen people. Strange how easily a people can forget the tenets of their faith in favor of pride. Strange how I have nothing to call my own, how I must piece together flags of many lands in order to finally feel whole. Strange how I must find ways to express myself in shreds of different languages, hoping that somewhere along the line, someone is listening and understands me.