Finding home is a collection of poetry from a high school teen’s perspective on what it means to have a home. Being the child of first generation Pakistani Muslim immigrants, Duaah Hammad tells her story of trying to fit into an American life style while still holding her roots close. She grew up struggling to meet the expectations and demands of both American and Pakistani culture.
By Duaah Hammad
Only 8 years old and looking down at my palms covered in henna, I didn’t understand why everyone around me was making fun of the very thing my mama had spent so much time happily putting on me. This wouldn’t be the last time I would be teased, in fact this was only the beginning.
When I was three years old my mother and father made the biggest sacrifice that any parent could. They decided to leave Pakistan and start a new life in America, to ensure my brothers and I would have a good future. But picking up your bags and just leaving everything and everyone behind wasn’t easy. With a heavy heart and lots of prayers they said goodbye to their homeland and stepped into America.
Being so young at the time, I never really noticed how different my family was from our neighbors. It wasn’t until I began school that I began to see that no one spoke my native tongue or looked like me. All I saw around me was blue eyes and blond hair. I went home many times and would ask my mother why I was so different from the other girls and she would kiss my forehead, and assure me that I wasn’t. If only her assurance had been enough.
As the years passed, children began noticing how different I was compared to them. They would question the food I brought from home or why I wanted to wear a traditional dress instead of jeans for picture day. Little by little the questions turned to teasing and the teasing turned to taunts about anything that represented my culture. I wasted no time in changing my appearance and did everything I could to fit in. I no longer wore henna to school or packed traditional home cooked meals. I turned to buying every pair of denim jeans that I could find at department stores and buying grilled cheese like my classmates.
My parents warned me not to change myself too much when I questioned why I wasn’t able to do some of the things other girls were able to do. They did their best to explain that we weren’t from America and that our cultures comes with different sets of rules and expectations but that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. It wasn’t until sometime later when I was called a terrorist that I truly began to break.
I no longer liked telling people I was Pakistani or Muslim because I knew nothing would come from it besides bullying and torment. When my friends would ask why I wouldn’t be allowed to do certain things I wouldn’t know what to tell them. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that my dad decided it was time for a trip back to Pakistan. Little did I know how much my life was about to change in two weeks.
The minute I got off the plane it was like I had fallen into some sort of fantasy. People were speaking urdu in the streets and wearing these beautiful kurta and shalwars as they hurried around. My head was spinning as I looked around and for the first time in my life, I felt like I actually belonged somewhere.
Within those two weeks I reconnected with not only my parents but with the culture that I had been running away from for so long. There were times during the trip that I just looked at myself in the mirror and wondered why I had spent so much time trying to fit into American culture when my culture had so much beauty. That one trip changed my life but I was in for a lot more than what I was expecting.
As I started high school I made more and more trips back to Pakistan. I was delighted each time to go back but the more trips I made back, the more I realized just how different the mindset is in a South Asian country. Growing up my parents had always warned me that people would talk and belittle a girl’s character at any chance they get and I finally began to understand. Double standards existed greatly and breaking tradition was not up for discussion, it was considered dishonorable. But I was never the girl who was okay with just getting a few answers, I had to get all the answers.
So I began to voice my frustration to everyone around me and asked why girls are treated so differently compared to boys? No one had ever asked the questions I was asking, my parents were terrified and others were very quick to try to put me in my place. At first I was reluctant to be hushed but when I began to be called “modern” I took a step back. In America I had always been called conservative by my friends for the way I thought and now coming back to Pakistan I’m called too modern? I didn’t understand why I couldn’t fit into either country and why both countries were doing their best to break me.
I was 15 or 16 when I fell into depression, the pressure to live up to the expectations of South Asian society while trying to live an American life style became too much. Luckily around the same time I found writing and I began to write poetry do let out my frustrations. Poetry helped me relieve myself from my stress but by getting out of that stress I was able to take a look around to my peers. It was evident now that many of the children who were Middle Eastern or South Asian had gone through what I had gone through but none of us were willing to keep silent now. We were very proud to be from our different backgrounds and wouldn’t let anyone else put us down for being different.
After coming together things did get a lot easier, that is until the 2016 elections. I saw the way hatred was being spread around the country and how negative assumptions were being thrown around like candy. I decided to write my book “Finding Home” to not only give the perspective of what a South Asian girl went through growing up between two worlds but also to remind the nation that no matter someone’s ethnicity or religion, everyone needs to be accepted and loved. I want other girls to be proud of where they’re from and if they feel different they should consider it a good thing, not bad. There was a time when differences were celebrated, we’ve just forgotten about that.