Where are you from? Or, how I became a Pakistani?

Posted by basanti on April 28, 2013 · 3 mins read

“What is your nationality?”
“You are Canadian?”
“My passport says so.”
“But where are you really from?”
“You mean, where do I live?”
“You don't live in Canada?”
“Oh, so where do you live?”
“Tehran? You're from Iran?”
“Where is that?”
“In Saudi Arabia.”
“Oh, you are Saudi Arabian?”
“No, I live there.”
“If you are not Saudi, so, where are you really from? I mean, originally.”
“You mean, where was I born?”
“I was born in Calgary, Canada.”
“No, I mean, where is your family from? Where were they born?”
“They are from Hyderabad.”
“Where is that?”
“Oh, you are Indian! So, why do you speak English with no accent?”
“What do you mean?”
“You speak American English.”
“I have gone to American schools.”
“In India?”
“No, in Saudi Arabia.”
“But you are Indian?”
“Yes, my family is from India.”
“India! I love India! The Hindus are such a beautiful religion of peace! But why do you have a Christian name, Sarah? Are you Christian?”
“No. Sarah is also a Muslim name.”
“Oh. You are Muslim? I thought you said you are Indian?”
“There are Muslims in India.”
“But you don't look like a Muslim!”
“What does a Muslim look like?”
“I don't know. Like an Arab?”
“Not all Muslims are Arab. Most Muslims aren't Arab.”
“But you live in Saudi Arabia?”
“Do you speak Arabic?”
“Why not? I thought you said you live in Saudi Arabia.”
“We don't live with Saudis in Saudi Arabia. It is not permitted by the Company my father works for. And, the American school in Saudi Arabia I go to—it doesn't allow for Arabic to be taught there.”
“What language do you speak at home?”
“But Urdu is the language of Pakistan, not India.”
“Urdu is spoken in India.”
“Yes, yes, but if you are Urdu speaking that means you really belong to Pakistan.”
“But, my relatives live in India.”
“Did any of your parents live in Pakistan?”
“Yes. My father did, for a few years.”
“Then, that means you are Pakistani.”
“But I've never lived in Pakistan. I've only been there once.”
“That doesn't matter. You are not Indian. You should say you are Pakistani.”


Sharat B. | April 28, 2013

If this isn't a conversation with a customs guy at an airport, I'll be damned. I freak out about this (hypothetical) conversation every fucking time I fly back from India to the States. In fact, this time, since I grew a beard in my time here, I have to shave it off before my flight back home. If this is real (ie nonfiction, rather than fiction), I am so sorry and empathize with you.

akbar | April 28, 2013

I work with a Bengali doctor (51 yr old) , he was born in 1961 in Dacca, Pakistan. However one day he was telling me, because of you Pakistanis ,"I was once called Paki in Australia" I told him those Australians were genius that they recongnised his Pakiness eventhough he was only 10 when Bengladesh came into being. But kidding aside I have a proposal ,when any brown skin person is asked where you from, regardless of country of birth or education or residence , we all should say " I am Pakistani" a good way to show solidarity with majority of suffering Pakistanis (on the geo-political chess board )and will also save lot of time to talk something else.

Abbas Halai | April 29, 2013

I wish I could spread this all over the internet, instantly.

PRADEEP | April 30, 2013

In quest of a living , man wanders world wide.Intermixing Diaspora has made it difficult to pin down a suitable Label on a person , that shall quench the thirst of an enquiring mind to find the roots of any person.

Marium I | April 30, 2013

It is insane how others are always looking to label everyone else. Why can't we all be who we are and not be grouped into areas we might not even associate ourselves with or identify with. Most of the times the titles we are given are only to put other's at ease and pacify.

Maratib | May 02, 2013

I don't think that people need to be curious about origin of the speakers. These are the labels which de-value whole individual. For example if you are Pakistani origin and you are a great engineer, painter, coach, then listener will treat you just as Pakistani. It's tragedy especial in multicultural places.

Jyotsna Singh | May 20, 2013

This is wonderful and many of us in various diasporas have experienced such a conundrum of queries... I am a Sikh and once in Texas I was told all Indian religious are about peace, and I could not resist saying "Sikhs carry daggers prepared for their enemies" kind of like Texans..

Deanne | May 25, 2013

I am American Indian, indigenous to this continent. I grew up in white America, so I talk, dress and act American. All my life I've been "other," not white, so people I meet think I'm from somewhere else. Japan, S Pacific, China. Overseas, people cannot accept I'm American because I'm not white. I don't live in diaspora, but have. Inside, I feel like anyone else, normal American. It can be aggravating, tho not always. We all belong right where we are. Anywhere is sacred ground.

Markaa | May 26, 2013

Love it, ha! I'm always asking where people are from. I've lived in 4 countries and visited quite a few others. Originally from the USA and can't hide the accent after 40 years out of there. Asked a rather dark fellow in Melbourne Australia once where he was from and he coldly said "third rock from the sun". Oh well. Loved the eloquence of Pradeep's comment. Hope I'm not jumping to conclusion that he is from India. I was surprised how much richer the Indian's English was than mine. Spent 3 years there. Good one Jyotsna Singh!

Jim | May 26, 2013

You are soooooo patient - I don't think I could have kept my tongue after "No, I mean, where is your family from?" Everyone wants to put people in little boxes. Once I was have drinks with some friends including Sally who'd emigrated here to Canada from Ireland a few years earlier. While we were all chatting, a fellow with an Irish accent joined us briefly and mostly seemed to be quizzing Sally - where she went to school, people she knew in Ireland, places she visited. After he left I asked her what he was doing. "Trying to see if I was Protestant or Catholic" she said "Just like back in Ireland." Little boxes, little boxes.

Eva | May 26, 2013

God, I'm so sorry. :/

Ahmed | May 27, 2013

I was born and raised in Pakistan. Rarely anyone asks me where I am from. Why people are asked these many questions? If someone does, I tell them and there is no further question. I think most of these stories are made up.

rashdakamal | May 27, 2013

he most shocking sentence is Urdu is pakistani Language . So sad Urdu is 100% Indian language. Please do not say it is the Language of Pakistan. It is born in India and this Magical language will remain Hudustani.

A.J. | June 18, 2013

I love this post! I was adopted from India and came to the US as an infant. I speak nearly flawless English, have brown skin and a Anglo name, since my parents are white folks. I am almost completely Western in all ways except for appearance, but I was born in S. India. I have had many similar conversations that begin with the exact same question. Some of us who are adopted, call it the "narrative burden." Thanks for sharing.