I was born and raised in Chicago. I am a Pakistani-American. My husband, Afroz, was also born and raised in Chicago. He is an Indian-American. My parents grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and my husband's parents grew up in Hyderabad, India.
Why am I giving you random information about where we're from?
Many times when we're out and about and we meet new Desi (a word that refers to both Pakistani and Indian people) friends, they ask where we're from. I say I'm Pakistani and my husband says he's Hyderabadi. And they sometimes look at us with surprised faces and say:
"Woah, how in the world did you manage to make that happen?!" ...referring to how we were able to convince our parents to allow us to marry someone who isn't from the same country.
And then there are moments when I'm surrounded by Hyderabadi aunties and I overhear things about Pakistanis being less than Hyderabadis and how Hyderabadi men should really stop marrying Pakistani women, because "goodness Pakistani women have no respect and they're shameless". Or vice versa, when Pakistani aunties talk about Hyderabadi people being weird and that Pakistanis wouldn't be able to fit in with that culture. These aunties also talk about how they shouldn't let their sons marry women from [insert country], because "Log kya kahenge?! (What would people say?!) How could your son not marry a civilized Indian woman from a respected Indian family?!"
I then search for the nearest calendar, check the year...and YES it's 2017 and people STILL believe in absurd stereotypes within the Pakistani-Indian community and look down upon other people just because their parents/grandparents lived on the other side of the border.
And I'm sick of it.
"Fariha, this isn't really a big deal. You're being overly sensitive."
If you're Pakistani or Hyderabadi, you know how it is. If you're a Pakistani who married a Hyderabadi or vice versa, then you definitely know how it is. People from one region think they're better than people from the other region and it really, really needs to stop. It bugs me now more than ever before, because I have a daughter now. She's half Pakistani, half Indian, 100% American, and Muslim. I want her to be proud of her background and never want her to sit in gatherings thinking one side of her family is better or worse than the other. I want her to be accepting of all cultures and backgrounds no matter what. Her generation will continue with the negative comments if her elders don't stop. The bullying/discrimination/stereotypes/whatever you want to call it from both sides needs to stop.
"You know what they say about Hyderabadis, right?"
When I met my husband and eventually decided he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I remember hearing certain stereotypes about Hyderabadis. My parents always made sure to never let those stereotypes keep me from marrying the man I loved. I remember having a deep discussion with my mom and all she said was: "While Afroz's family is Desi like us, some of their traditions are different than what you're used to. We never really followed Pakistani traditions strictly. We just did what we thought was right for our family. They might have certain Indian traditions they follow. Just learn as you go and respect his family's customs and traditions. All that matters is that you and Afroz get along and love each other." I loved my parents for respecting my decision and my future husband. They never let the fact that he was Indian or Hyderabadi get in the way. It's been 5 years since they've known Afroz and not once have they ever made him feel uncomfortable for being Hyderabadi. All they wanted for me was to get married to someone who loved me, respected me, and supported me. And I want the same for our daughter.
"We will never move forward as a civilization if we keep teaching the next generation to be unaccepting of people who are different from us."
Not ALL Pakistanis. Not ALL Indians.
It makes me so upset when people say things like "Goodness that wedding was so Pakistani. All they did was dance. So inappropriate." When I hear things like this, I think to myself, "Ok, if they wanted to dance, let them. Not all Pakistanis are conservative. Not all of them like the same things. Why the heck do you have to use a few people's traditions to put down a whole country's people? Why is it wrong for them to enjoy themselves in their own way? You do your thing and they'll do their's."
Then, on the other side, I hear Pakistani people say things like, "Hyderabadi people have some ridiculous customs. How do you survive doing that stuff as a Pakistani?" I sit there and wonder, "Well, not all Hyderabadis are like that one family you met at some random party. And what do you mean survive?" I just go with the flow and ask my husband questions. I know 99% of the time I look completely lost when certain new practices take place when I'm in a Hyderabadi crowd, but I don't stand there and bash it all. Pakistanis are awesome in their own way and Hyderabadis are awesome in their own way. Get over it.
What can we do as individuals to combat these cultural stereotypes?
Unfortunately, we can't gather every South Asian person in the world and have them realize that making negative comments about another person's background is wrong. We can't get aunties to understand that putting down a person for their country of origin won't make their own country the better one. But there are a few things we can do to combat this discrimination when we see or hear it happen:
1. Catch yourself when you're being stereotypical.
I admit it. There are times when I make jokes about Hyderabadis with my husband and he jokes around about Pakistanis. We both know we're not being serious and we promised that we would never joke around about this in front of our daughter, but we know we should stop. When you're out and about with your Desi friends and think about saying something along the lines of, "Yeah man she's Pakistani (or Indian). You know how Pakistanis (or Indians) are..." catch yourself. The only way to stop this mentality in our communities is to stop it from coming out of our own mouths first. I speak to myself before anyone else. We need to work on this, both the young and the old in the Pakistani-Indian community.
2. When you see something, say something.
Don't they have these sayings on posters on the public trains in New York and Chicago? Practice it at those family parties when you hear good ole' Farhana Aunty talking about how [insert specific group of people] are cheap. Look at her with a smile and say, "Farhana Aunty, let's face it, we're all cheap sometimes. Ain't nobody going to say no to a buy one get one free deal!" Crack a joke or tell her about that one Indian friend you have that is, in fact, not cheap. We don't need to attack our elders for their comments. They justify it and it's unfortunate, but we can't just start yelling at them. Let's follow the "respect our elders" rule and also slip in a comment to politely fight the stereotypes.
3. Don't ask your Indian friend how he convinced his parents to let him marry a Pakistani girl.
Maybe it was a struggle. Maybe it wasn't. You don't know the story of how it all happened. But rather than calling it out like it's unusual, don't say anything about it or if you really want to say something, tell your mixed couple friends that you think more Indians and Pakistanis should get married and that we need to break that barrier. You never know what the background story is. Maybe the Indian friend is still trying to feel accepted by his Pakistani in laws or vice versa. Be polite and support it with a positive comment.
4. Help that Indian relative feel accepted in your Pakistani family.
Did your Indian cousin Ali marry a Pakistani girl? Does your khandaan (extended family) practice a lot of traditional rituals? If you see her confused at the next party, let her know she can ask you any questions if she gets lost when certain customs are taking place during the engagement, mehndi, shaadi, walima, or any other future parties. Crack a few jokes and make her feel comfortable, because she's probably already nervous about impressing her new Indian in-laws and doesn't want to mess up or be disrespectful. When I got married, I wanted my husband's parents to feel that I assimilated well into the family and the new culture. I was so worried about it (and still get anxious, because let's face it, I can be awkward). So many new rituals came up and while my husband tried his best to explain them along the way (sometimes he didn't even know what was going on), I was able to ask his relatives about what I was supposed to do during a certain ritual. Make that new member of the family feel comfortable, because she's probably really nervous!
5. Aunties, stop telling your kids that people from this country or that country are cheap/rude/obnoxious/too liberal/too conservative/religious/not religious/and any other stereotype out there.
A lot of times, this mentality sprouts at home. Parents telling their kids to never marry a person from a certain region or country, because they feel that all people from that specific country are [insert stereotype]...is just ridiculous. I've heard everything from "Pakistani women control there husbands" to "Hyderabadi men are rude to their wives" and everything else in between. When you ask people where they got these stereotypes from, the reply is usually "It's true! Our elders used to tell us. It's just how those people are." This discrimination and dislike for people from other cultures is passed down from generations sometimes and it really needs to stop. And on top of that, telling your kids to not marry someone from a different country because of what other aunties will think is even worse. Who cares what they think?
We need to stop labeling a whole group of people according to one person's actions, not only in the Desi community, but in general. We will never move forward as a civilization if we keep teaching the next generation to be unaccepting of people who are different from us. As a couple that is 50% Indian and 50% Pakistani, we have the pleasure of teaching our daughter about customs from both backgrounds. And even if we don't practice every ritual, we get to create our own traditions as American-born Desi parents and we promise to try our best to expand our horizons as a family, as we travel to and meet people from other countries and regions. The world needs more open-minded people, not more discrimination.
While this post is from my perspective as a Pakistani, it can really be applied to any ethnicity. We need to do a better job of accepting people from other cultures if we want to live in a world of peace and harmony. We need to raise our kids to be kinder, smarter, and more loving toward one another. And the only way they'll learn is through our actions of love and acceptance.