Alayna Ahmad muses on her triple identity in a new country.
I would say I am a worldly soul, having worked and lived across three different continents. Born in Lahore and brought up in London, I am now working and studying in the US. Perhaps most people would have an identity crisis, and this can be quite common. The US is a vast country with diverse people and cultures, which vary from state to state. Thus, an individual can readily and freely be submerged into the sea of North American culture. On the other hand, I have retained my British-Pakistani heritage and wear it proudly.
My work involves travel throughout the US, which provides me with many opportunities to explore and meet new people. I often meet people either in transit or at restaurants and coffee shops. The first question I am almost always asked is, ‘Why would you leave lovely old England to come here?’
My answer has now become generic. I usually respond with a gimmick: ‘To live the American Dream.’ However, at this moment in my life, I am not quite sure what the American dream really represents. Nonetheless, my response usually amuses people, which breaks the ice for further chitchat.
I have been moulded by a liberal English culture that has at times clashed with the rather conservative religious society in the USA. I tend to have a liberalist approach to most things even though I am rather conservative in my day-to-day life. The bigger cosmopolitan cities in America tend to house more open-minded individuals whereas smaller cities may have a ‘small town’ mentality.
The English in me is accustomed to interacting with people from all ends of the socio-religious spectrum with ease. However, some people here have never come across a Muslim individual, let alone a Pakistani before. Usually they are astonished to discover that we Muslims are peace-abiding people too.
The English in me beckons teatime at least once a day, which is a contrast with the American coffee scene. Generally, going out for coffee here with friends can be regarded as a social event. Even when I go for coffee dates, I tend to always drink hot tea. Other ways in which I have held on to my British heritage is by keeping abreast of cricket results whenever there is a match. The US does not have a national cricket team and most don’t even know this sport exists.
Retaining my Pakistani heritage is really not that far from being British. After all, Pakistan was a result of the breakup of the British Empire. Therefore, its culture has echoes of its British colonial past such as teatime and cricket. I also enjoy cooking and often attempt to make Pakistani dishes. At times I even wear my traditional Pakistani dress as it keeps me cool in the scorching heat of the American South.
I have also met a few Pakistani individuals here. Although we are fellow Pakistanis, we are nonetheless like chalk and cheese. They have become Americanised and I suppose I have become a ‘Britisher’.
Forgetting the values and customs of our forefathers should not be so easy. I believe it is very important to retain our original values and customs, even though it should be one’s prerogative to absorb the good morals and traditions from any new place. For example, the Americans I have met work extremely hard here and endure long hours with minimal breaks. They also receive fewer holidays a year than the average holiday allowance in the UK.
Needless to say, those that I’ve met here are jolly and in high spirits. But home for me will always be in London and Lahore. No matter how long I live away from these places or where my next destination may be, I can never forget my British-Pakistani heritage. It runs in my blood and it will always be so.