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Where I'm From...Originally.

Most of the time, the hyphen is a generally useless symbol of punctuation. A few years ago, though, the hyphen made big news with those of us in the American citizenry who have a decidedly "ethnic" flair. I'm specifically referring to the debate of whether to include a hyphen in the phrases used to describe those of us who were born on U.S. soil, but don't look like we were born here. For example, does one write "Arab American" or "Arab-American"?

The great debate centered on the appropriateness of whether to include this hyphen or not. Some people said that when you write "Arab-American" (hyphen included), you are implying that the status of "Arab," because it is a descriptor, in the term "Arab-American" is somehow secondary or substandard to the "American" status.

Before you file this information in the "I Have No Idea Why This is Important" category of your brain, some feel that both of these identities (in this particular example, "Arab" and "American") are equally important to their individual identity. In other words, one of them is not more important than the other, and the hyphenated expression somehow diminishes that point .

People (and by "people," I mean individuals who read too many books and have too much time on their hands) got tired about making such a fuss over this teeny, tiny little punctuation mark and decided to do away with it all together. As a result, the correct and "modern" way to describe a citizen of the United States with Arab origins is "Arab American." No hyphen.

I, personally, find this all very confusing. Since my parents came here from Pakistan in the 70s, and I was born here, I am a Pakistani American. But, their parents migrated from India almost seven years after the partition of India and Pakistan. So, I guess that makes me Indian Pakistani American. Oh, and I almost forgot, my parents were born before the partition of India and Pakistan, while India was under British rule, and were thus born as British subjects. Does that mean I am actually British Indian Pakistani American? And what about my daughter whose father is Indian? Is she British Indian Pakistani American Indian American?

Truth be told, I've never really accepted this label of "Pakistani American" with any real seriousness. (Oh, by the way, since I just used both "Pakistan" and "Arab" in this blog post, I just want to give a shout out to the Homeland Security intern who got saddled with the fruitless task of monitoring my blog for the next few months.)

Don't get me wrong, when I was living under a fairly strict dress code or threatened with death if I even thought about dating a boy in high school, I was very aware of my status as a "Pakistani American." And when I got married to an Indian, I became even more aware of it. And, I pretty much prefer to dress in Pakistani clothes and eat Pakistani food. Still, if I were about to die in five minutes and someone handed me an indestructible scrap of paper that would thousands of years later reveal the very core of my existence to future generations, I am certain the term "Pakistani American" would not be written on it.

I was forced, though, to examine this status of "Pakistani American" with a more keen eye when a friend, who happens to be an immigrant, turned to me and innocently said, "You know, when most Americans that don't know you look at you, I don't think they think of you as an American."

I still gasp at the utter horror of the implication, given that I have resided every minute of my life in this country. I said the pledge of allegiance every day in elementary school, junior high and until we weren't allowed to say it anymore because it wasn't politically correct. I watch baseball and football (which is a different sport than soccer). Additionally, I vehemently deride the false athleticism of table tennis and badminton as well as the utter stodginess of cricket. I even shop at Wal-Mart from time to time, just to assert my God given right as an American to pay extra low prices for cheap crap I don't need.

The truth is, though, that most Americans might not think I'm an American at first glance, but, then again, most Pakistanis might not think I'm very Pakistani after they get to know me. I figure that I have been asked "Where are you from, originally?" over 2,304 times. I just did the math on a Post-It, so I could be off by couple of hundred. Still, that's a lot of times to have to assert you are an American and a Pakistani.

Let me just say this question does not, in any way, offend me. I'm proud of my heritage. I'm proud that the possibility exists that my difference might actually expand someone's awareness regarding the amazing diversity of this country. I do have to admit, though, that this question and my friend's comment do bring to light a topic that I personally am sick of talking about. Apparently, it still begs clarification, so let me clarify. Here's where I am from, originally.

  • I come from the place where my authenticity is always questioned. When I'm with certain Americans, I'm not American enough. When I'm with certain Pakistanis, I'm not Pakistani enough. The truth is, I am more authentic than most people I know because every cultural, political and even linguistic choice I make is both conscious and deliberate. Most of the world just inherits its preferences from their superculture, but I am incredibly lucky because I was offered a variety of choices.

  • I come from the place where people call me names like "ABCD" (American Born Confused Desi) when, in reality, I know exactly who I am. Actually, the people who use that term are the ones who are confused by my superhuman ability to fit in and not fit in simultaneously all in a single bound.

  • I come from a place where my nationality is something that is written in my passport. This has no bearing on the clothes I choose to wear, whether I choose to eat spicy food or sweet potato casserole, or how and to whom I pray.

  • I come from the place where my compatriots are individuals with whom I identify politically and intellectually. I am thankful that I am among the few people blessed with the means to actually make those choices for myself.

In case you haven't figured it out, I'm the new global citizen, originally from the 21st century.

Nationality is paperwork, culture is negotiable, affinities and alliances exist in the mind. Leave your hyphens at the door.

References (1)

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    Native Born - Blog - Where I'm From...Originally.

Reader Comments (23)

Just Reposting here
Regarding your post entitled “where I’m from originally…”: This blog caused me to think a great deal ,which is wonderful because normally I usually hate thinking. To be perfectly honest I never actually saw any significance in this “Hyphen Debate” however I see that you bring up an even bigger issue of cultural identity. Although I too get upset when people begin questioning my authenticity of being a straight up American I usually just brush off their comments as pure ignorance. In a country where only 53% of all eligible voters show up on Election Day, what else can you expect? I usually just play with such comments (After all I’m just as ignorant). This one time I actually passed off as a half Caucasian half Ethiopian love child. This didn’t last very long of course…
Oh and yes god bless FISA and the Patriot Act
Swell job on the posting;)

January 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKomal can you share that sweet potato casserole recipe on your next blog...Thanks!

Seriously...I have spent many, many, many hours contemplating this same issue and have come up with only one answer to dealing with this conundrum...but first I need that sweet potato casserole recipe!

January 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersalma

I think Traci has a good sweet potato casserole recipe if anyone wants it...

January 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterZia

traci's recipe is for sweet potato souffle, as i recall. and i think the writer actually meant to write sweet potato pie not casserole. but i'm not sure as i am not in any way admitting to knowing who wrote this blog entry as it is anonymous.

January 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

lol. Well, without a doubt, the most thought out and appropriate comment here is....zia's!! lol no joking, its Komal's ofcourse. But apart from the fact that getting the right sweet potatoe pie recipe is just as if not more important than what the blogger blogged about, i really want to know who is this "anonymous" that anonymously keeps leaving anonymous comments on difference sections of this blog!

hmmmm....does nuha have a google account?

January 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShariq

Wow..nicely done. Considering that I wasnt born in this country and dont look or dress anything like an "American"( as the various ignorant people I have come across so astutely point out to me), I have had my share of questions as to what I consider myself to be. In the beginning when I moved here 13 years ago, the answer was easy: I am from Pakistan, as such I am a Pakistani. Now that I have lived in America for over a decade, this is home. I pay taxes to the American govt., I too shop at Walmart almost everday(sorry Tariq), I finished college here, got married here and had my kids here. This is where I live. By the pure definition of my everyday life, I am an American. Dont get me wrong, I am proud of my heritage (even though when I visit Paksitan, I get to hear all about me now being an "engraiz" since I married one and insist on using carseats for my kids while driving in Karachi traffic),,sorry for babbling..
I guess the point I am trying to make is that given the country we live in, these questions are so inappropriate. What right does anyone have to ask another person to label themselves under some pre-judged category. I wonder how they would react if every time I met an "American" I asked them if they consider themselves Irish, British, or French.

I have even encountered idiots a at Target(sorry again Tariq) who passed by me and seeing the Muslim garb that I wear told me I should move back to Saudi and graze camels in the desert. Needless to say, even though I have visited Saudi I have never been in the desert, wouldnt know what to do if I came face to face with a camel. But what really gets me huffed is that this country falsely prides itself on the plethora of cultures that make up the population of America, it prides itself on religious freedom yet a lot of the people really truly hate the idea of having this country be anything but Christian.

WEll..sorry about my haphazard post. its close to 1:30am and I have a half fried brain from running after my 2 kids all day long..

Again..godd job on this blog..keep it up..

January 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSahar

Sahar, did you say you shopped at Target...does Yahya know about this...are you secretly shopping at Target then tranferring your groceries to a WalMart bag so Yahya doesn't find out??? Hehe...

We live in a world where information is not owned by any one entity/country and outsourced jobs are being performed by people of the country that originally outsourced them (13% of the labor force of the top 5 Indian IT companies is now locally recruited in the country that outsourced the job to begin with and this number will continue to grow). Soon this will be a world in which no ONE country will control all financial, manufacturing, entreprenurial or human resources. When Amit-- who is "originally" from India, now has an American nationality, is working in China, married to an individual who is originally from Romania, have children who were born in China-- is asked where his family is "originally" will sound ignorant and a subject that should not be entertained anymore. What should matter is that Amit and his family are decent law abiding world citizens who want the best for themselves, the ones around them, and the people to come (GO GREEN).

January 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTariq

Ok here goes....I am an indian, i live in saudi!

phew..that wasnt that hard.

is my situation not that complicated or is it cause my passport is still indian?

January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterShariq

your situation is complicated by the fact that you are totally annoying. lol. kidding. the situation will be complicated for your children who will have roots in Canada and India and probly live in the Middle East (and when I get my claws in them I will certainly indoctrinate them with a deep love for Pakistan and GASP, America).

January 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChista1749

i'd love to have some of my students who are still in the 20th century read this!

January 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternancy

I sense a hyper-sensitivity here. If I went to India, it wouldn't surprise me if people inquired about my country of origin. I will admit that the questions would get tiresome. Nevertheless, what is all this about "rights"? They have a right to ask you, and you have a right to refuse to answer.
Anyway, are they questioning your "authenticity," Komal? They might just be curious. Hey, it's just a thought. Faiqa, I've never heard anyone say that Obama is a Muslim. I've only heard liberals say that conservatives are saying Obama is a Muslim. Personally, I take him at his word in that regard. The problem is that his religion is Marxism and he advocates American defeat. You seem a tad confused about your identity, Faiqa. I can see why you would be drawn to Obama.

May 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarmy

Well, Karmy, let me congratulate you on being the first person to comment on my blog that is not shamelessly kissing up to me.
With that said, I wonder if you actually *read* my blog before commenting? You will find the line, "I'm not offended" in there with regards to being asked about my ancestry. I don't think I'm hypersensitive, moderately sensitive or even slightly sensitive about being asked about my country of origin.
Still, I think Americans need to change their concept of what an American "looks" like. That was my subtle point. See, if you went to India and people asked you where you were from it is not the same thing. You are tourist and, furthermore, India doesn't bill itself as a "melting pot" society. So, to be asked about your origin is does not carry with it the implication of a questioned authenticity.
I am not a tourist in America, thus your parallel is irrelevant to my overall point, which you seemed to have missed.
In terms of Obama being Muslim, just because you haven't heard any conservatives say he is Muslim doesn't mean that they aren't saying it. I *have* heard some of my more conservative friends say it, so *there*.
Finally, I find it ironic that anytime somebody actually cares about other people and wants to spend money taking care of those less fortunate that they are labeled "Marxist" by conservatives. I am not confused by who I am and I don't think Obama is either. Child labor laws, Social Security, public transportation and national park systems are all "marxist" in origins. Perhaps you *do* need to visit India and be accosted by hungry children begging for food as you walk on a decrepit road towards a now decaying monument of man's greatness in order to realize how positively socialist concepts have been in our own society.
At any rate, I deeply thank you for your comments and opinion and I appreciate the diversity they added to my blog.

May 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChista1749

Thanks Karmy, for the insight into "Liberation Theology." After your comment, I googled it and read the Wikepedia explanation. I have to say, I'm totally down with liberating the oppressed masses in the name of the Lord. As for conflating liberalism and Marxism,,,mmm, no problem with that either. I'm surprised though, given your circus origins that you're not more of a Marxist. Ha ha. Hold onto your wallet, Karmy, the liberals are coming!! :)

May 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChista1749

I'd be down with Liberation Theology too, Chista, except that the late Roman pontiff and Bishop of Rome JP II scolded those clerics who had signed up with that program. Seems that JP thought their "Lord" wasn't the same one they had originally agreed to humbly serve and obey. Google this! lol There's a striking photograph of JP verbally ripping on a priest who had arrogantly donned the red beret of the Sandinsta movement. (I'm thinking circa 1980's?) Roman priests are forbidden to engage in politics, a point JP threatened to enforce by defrocking the apostates. Turns out JP thought they weren't serving Jesus so much as they were serving Karl Marx. But I digress ... John McCain made a JOKE about bombing Iran. Hillary Clinton threatened to bomb Iran. Your man Obama threatened to bomb Pakistan, an ally, despite our misgivings about General M. Ah, so little time, so little space ... I'll be back (like Schwarzeneggar lol) to enlighten you further. Stay tuned.

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarmy

Oh, Chista, I almost forgot ... you demurred to my charge that Obama is a Marxist, essentially by asserting the "so what" defense. I note in this regard, that you do not deny that Obama is a Marxist. You've simply denied the significance or importance of the term.
Your humble correspondent,

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKarmy

Chista, hiyaz. I'm baaack. Heh Heh. Hey, Chista, are you open to some seriously alternative reading experiences?
1. Irshad Manji: The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith.
2. Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Infidel.
3. Mark Steyn: America Alone:
Happy reading. See you soon.
karmy lol :-D

May 22, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkarmy

I'm baaaack. First to digressions. Chista, When I said in a prior post that if I went to India I would probably anticipate questions from Indians concerning the country of my origin etc. etc. By that I meant that if I went to India to live, it would not be unreasonable to expect such questions. I never said that you were a tourist in this country, nor did I imply it, nor did I even think it. lol :-D Ok, 'nuff said.
Another thing. I have to admire your concern for the poor of India.(Kissing up starts now :-D) Nevertheless, I can't find any provision of the U.S. Constitution which permits the government to rob taxpayers at IRS gun point for the purpose of feeding, housing, clothing, etc. of Indian children. By the way, charitable giving went up 56% between 1980 and 1989, the so-called decade of greed, better known to Americans as the Reagan Years. My heart bleeds also for the world's poor, but let's remember the words of a very wise man: "The poor you have with you always." And more .. charity begins at home.

May 24, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterkarmy

Mr. KITAW says
The Karmy and Chista saga I love it let me put my two cents in. This world is not about conservatives or liberals or marx, lenin or engels. Coming from a country where these three faces looked down from the main square of the city I will tell you that it is how it is used. People were attracted to these philospohies becuase the rich got greedier and the poor were vandalized. Similar to how Martin Luther protested to the corrupt Catholic Church. So I take what JP II says and does with a grain of salt. Probably the most corrupt religious organization of all time has no place to chastize people fighting for freedom (not that I condone the ways of some of these so called freedom fighters).
What was my point .... think for yourself and dont let some priest or pontiff or leader influence you.. and you know that was what I believe Jesus was trying to tell us. Until that is ofcourse until the Romans figured out this was a way to control the masses. Why do you think a large majority of Romans were attracted to his teachings.... it was about helping the poor and the dowtrodden and those suffering at the hands of the wealthy.
I have nothing against wealth infact I embrace it and want more of it however human nature is hauman nature and if not kept in check most are greedy and want more.. more ..more
Now I have totally lost my train of thought
Oh and by the way religion (islam or christianity) have always been used as a way to control. The europeans used it as a way to control the masses before sending in the cavalry.
However the eastern religions are more about self improvement, self awareness..
All this started with Clinton, McCain and Obama huh
on that do what makes sense to you but I myself will not put into office a person who is confused about his political identity and is afraid to be photographed with his benfactor (McCain that is). I respect him but no more of the McSame. He may be a war hero but I dont think he understands world politics if he is going to continue Lil Bush's policy. Whatever happened to well thought out politicians like Bush Sr. and James Baker and Colin Powell and Reagan etc.. When engaging the enemy is called surrendering... I worry about this country if McCain gets elected. And he wont vote for a new Bill for GI's saying it is too generous WOW!!!!



May 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

karmy, karmy, karmy. what am i *going* to do with you?! :) I never intimated that we should give U.S. taxpayer's moolah to poor Indians. I meant that our socialist leanings in this country prevent us from being accosted by poor people begging for food. Oh, and did I come off as a Marxist. Nooo way, I'm a suburban housewife with a BMW who spends two out of four weekends a month at a day spa...yaay capitalism. Still, I don't mind giving a little more of my husband's hard earned cash to buy off the guilt of living well. Mr KITAW, I hope you don't plan to start a blog soon because you seem to be able to write what I am thinking way better than I can...I don't know if I could take the competition. FINALLY, why are you guys posting on *this* post? Go to the most recent one, so everyone can read your great comments without having to rummage through past posts! As always, thanks for insights and keep 'em coming!!

May 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChista1749

[...] So, a reminder.  I am an American who is informed by my parent’s heritage. [...]

[...] A hyphen. [...]

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterABCD & FOB / Really You&#8

Is it possible this was written before I started reading your blog? I think this is the first time I've read this, and it's very good.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

You know what's crazy? The "ideal" America is a place full of many different people, from many different places, and yet... many of those people, from those many different places, feel like you, that they don't "don't look like we were born here."

It kind of makes me angry, that I'll never know what it's like to feel that way... and that there's nothing I can do (at least that I can think of), as someone who does "look" like she was born here.

It's sad, and I'm sorry that you and so many other people feel that way. Anyone living here is American to me.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kaylene

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