We all know the classic immigrant story. Parents coming from another country to America to create a better life for their children. Knowing that the opportunities they were seeking were worth much more than anything that they were leaving behind. That’s why I’m here. My parents sacrificed everything to give me the chance of having a better life.
Immigrants know entrepreneurship and struggle better than anyone else. My Dad delivered pizzas for Domino’s when he first came to this country, even though he had a master’s degree. Knowing where he was and where he wanted to go made him into the man he is today, and he made sure that he created an opportunity for his kids so that they would never be set back the same way that he was. When thinking back about all of the opportunities my parents gave me it’s tough to say if I could do anything that would ever pay them back for all that they did. I am extremely lucky and grateful that they sacrificed so much for me. But it wasn’t always this way. The reality is that I wasn’t always proud of my parents for what they had done. I wasn’t proud that they had a different background or spoke a different language. And growing up, the hardest thing for me to accept was the different color of skin that I had. I remember coming home from school wondering why I wasn’t like the other kids. I used to cry and cry wondering why I had to be brown, and they all got to be white. All of their families seemed to know each other, and it seemed as if the only outsider was me. I had grown up calling my parents Mama and Baba, and I still remember asking them if I could call them Mom and Dad just to fit in. I wished so much to shed the history and the culture of my parents’ home country. I had learned English as a second language when I was younger, but I started to refuse to speak Urdu at home. I introduced myself to others as Oz-min instead of Osman like my parents and family called me. I started saying I was from Packistan instead of Pakistan. I was ashamed to eat home cooked food at the lunch table. I was ashamed of who I was, and where I came from. I was ashamed to be different.
I think growing up knowing you’re different from other people is something a lot of immigrant children have to face. The struggle of not really being from your home country, but also not fully being an American. Living one life outside of home and showing another to your parents. Living life in a duality only compounds the struggles of growing up. Eventually, I had created an aversion to my true self. For a long time, I didn’t realize what I was doing. Looking back now I can see why my parents made sure I called them Mama and Baba. Why my dad made me go to Sunday school even though I pleaded with him every week not to make me go. My parents left Pakistan to provide a better life for their children no matter what the sacrifice meant for them. Knowing they left their home country, they wanted me to be exposed to the culture they came from. Now as I look back, I realize that they created the opportunity for me to not only have a better life, but also for me to embrace both aspects of my culture and to create something unique in the process. It isn’t always easy. Society is always asking you to conform. But at the end of the day, the only thing we can control is who we are, and we have to make the choice to embrace where we come from, and to never be uncomfortable being our true selves.