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Friday
Nov232012

These Boots Were Made for Gawking. And Giving Away.

In a couple of hundred words, I'm going to tell you how you can win some boots. Until then, sit back, sip on something for a spell and let's talk about history, culture and identity.

Here’s a surprising admission: I don’t wear cowboy boots. 

I’ve always wanted to own cowboy boots, though. In the spring of 1994, I went to Pakistan for about five months. Before I left, I searched the mall up and down for a pair of, don’t laugh at me, red cowboy boots. I wanted to wear them on the flight over with a pair of Gap jeans and a black button down shirt. I owned the jeans, purchased the top and then was sorely disappointed at not finding the boots. There was a specialty store for cowboy boots in my area. I wasn’t about to go in there, of course. Frankly, I was afraid of looking like a big poser. I’d never ridden a horse or been within ten feet of a cow at that point. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve still not been within ten feet of a cow unless it's on a plate.

Why the cowboy boots? Because I’m American and I wanted people to know that when I got to Pakistan.

I was contacted recently by Country Outfitters about reviewing a pair of boots and hosting a giveaway for Native Born readers. If you’ve read this blog since the beginning, you know I don’t work with brands or products in this space. I really, really, REALLY wanted a pair of cowboy boots, though, so I said yes. Plus, cowboy boots are interesting and I want to write about them.

As I waited for my boots to arrive, I got to thinking about cowboy boots and the irony of a first generation Pakistani-American chick sporting a head scarf walking around wearing them. If you’ve read my post about why I cover my head, you’ll know that a great deal of the decision rests in cultural authenticity and a desire to express my identity. That was true back in 1994 when I tried to look for those red cowboy boots, too. I’m not any one identity and the fastest way to transmit that to people is through fashion.

Clothes, jewelry, shoes - these are all markers and suggestions of who we are, where we’ve been and they're ways to reinforce not just a community but cross cultural commonalities, too. Most people, for example, associate cowboy boots with America. While it’s a fact that cowboy boots were made fashionable by the likes of Will Rogers and John Wayne, their origins have been traced as far back as the 12th century to Genghis Khan (no relation). The present day construction of cowboy boots is still based upon the specific needs of horsemen that were addressed by Khan and the Mongolians. Four hundred years after Genghis Khan, caballeros and vanqueros in 16th century South America were wearing cowboy boots as they herded cows and livestock. As Americans began to realize the economic potential associated with transporting cattle and livestock from one place to another, the need for a strong shoe that could handle the strain of that type of work became high and thus the use of modified Wellington boots which had been used in the Civil War became widespread in the West and Midwest regions of our nation.

Now, here is where it gets really cool. About twenty years after the Civil War, Buffalo Bill used elements of the cowboy lifestyle to provide entertainment value to the American public in ways that still resonate in today's culture. What had been a sturdy brown working shoe now reflected beautiful and intricate overlay, color and design. The functional had been transformed into the fashionable and as each decade passed, innovative methods of construction and design allowed Americans to claim this specific and fashionable version of a historical riding boot as their very own.

The American cowboy boot’s current construction and visage is reflective of all things American: borrowed, worked over, branded and most beautifully reenvisioned . 

When I look at a pair of well crafted and artistically magnificent cowboy boots, I know exactly how people who do not originate in the subcontinent feel when they see a beautifully patterned sari or scarf. The modern day fashion cowboy boot, like those things, is a symbol of tradition, evolution, beauty and culture. This may sound dramatic, but when I look at a gorgeously designed cowboy boot, I am reminded that the nation of my birth is no less rich in its tradition and beauty than the one of my origins.

Also?

I’ve always looked good in blue and I may never take these off.

Country Outfitters has agreed to give away a $150 gift card a member of Native Born's audience. Honestly? You should totally try to win this. The winner will be announced December 7th.

CLICK HERE and enter your email address. Country Outfitter will occasionally send you marketing messages. You are welcome to opt out at any time.

For an additional entry please leave a comment below letting me know that you entered. Must be a US Resident 18 years and older.

To gawk at more boots, visit their main website and like them on Facebook 

 

Disclosure: As the writer of this blog, I am wholly committed to expressing my real, honest opinion with the highest degree of integrity about products or services I've been asked to review. CountryOutfitter, a retailer of women's cowboy boots sent me these turquoise Corral boots to review this month and is sponsoring the giveaway of a gift card, as well.

 

Photo Credit: Country Outfitter -- Dingo Women's Adobe Rose Boot - Distressed

Monday
Jan232012

Mujahideen Plunder

Afghanistan


It was 1996.

My father had recently returned from a trip that allowed him the unusual opportunity of venturing beyond Lahore. He and my cousin went on a road trip and wandered through Peshawar and areas bordering Afghanistan. During that excursion, my father met and conversed with some Afghani "mujahideen."

The word mujahideen has become synonymous with "Islamist" and “terrorist.” For Americans knowledgeable on the topic in 1996, though, a mujahideen was something different. Mujahideen means "one who fights in the way of jihad," and this is not the post 9/11 "jihad" that Muslims in the United States are quick to point out as a spiritual struggle. It's am actual reference to battle.

In 1979, the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Afghanis fought back. The defense of Afghanistan proved significant to Pakistan and the United States by virtue of a enemy that was perceived to be shared. Many of the young men who battled tanks  with hand held weaponry strongly felt that God had contributed to their victory. The most famous mujahideen we all know was a Yemeni man named Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden never directly fought the Soviets in combat, but instead funded and supported training facilities and medical camps during the war. In this way, he seems less representative of Afghani mujahideen than most conservative talking heads are willing to admit.

By the time the Soviets were defeated, over 2 million Afghanis had died. That was the beginning of the death toll, though. In the next ten years, a complex series of battles, both physical and ideological, within Afghanistan would create circumstances that would lead to the rise of a Taliban government. Ultra-orthodox interpretations of Islam of this religio-political faction would lead to repeated violations of basic human rights to education, justice and even mobility. It also provided fertile soil for the development of an ideological movement that has contributed to the deaths of over one million people all over the world.

But back to 1996.

My nineteen year old self's sense of awe at the mujahideen victory claimed against the USSR with little more than borrowed training and ammunition from its neighboring nation of Pakistan and funding from the United States was likely naive.  I was just a kid and couldn't have foreseen how the stories of these victorious underdogs would contribute significantly to an ideology that would change us all forever.

I knew at the time that these were people who had fought to save their homeland, and that both of the countries I called home, America and Pakistan, had helped them do that.  It was childlike on my part, but when I listened to those stories in 1996, I felt whole.

One story my father told me of his visit had to do with shopping in makeshift markets that former mujahideen had set up.  Many of the goods weren't the usual fare.  When my father inquired about the origin of certain items that looked more eastern European in nature than south Asian, the sellers gave mysterious smiles and assured him that he was lucky to have the ability to acquire such quality merchandise at such a low cost.

I don't know if it was my dad's addiction to getting a good bargain or that he felt sorry for the guys, but he bought some stuff and brought it home. When he presented my mother with some of the things he had bought, my brother and I laughed at how gaudy it was, made jokes about it belonging to the Romanovs and feigned horror at my dad's purchase of what was essentially "war plunder."

After getting married, though, I took a few of the things with me. Maybe I wanted to hold on to the innocence that led me to believe that Pakistan and the U.S. had worked together to make something good happen.  Or maybe it was just that no matter how gaudy those things were, they reminded me of my parents and I wanted to take that with me to my new home.

The item deemed "most gaudy" in 1996 sits at the entrance of my home today. I don't find it tacky anymore, but tremendously beautiful and significant. On dusting days, when it’s given more attention than usual, I pass my hands over its delicately beaded surfaces and wonder how far this item has journeyed. I imagine the places and the homes that it once occupied.

I worry for the people who first owned it and I wonder what it might have meant to them. I also worry for the people who sold it (stole it?) and wonder if they are even in this world now.  I think of countless yet imagined hands that have touched this odd item and wonder about the hopefulness of the hearts to which those hands belonged.

As I wipe the dust, I think of how best laid plans and intentions often end in despair. I remember that small moment when I thought all was right in the world and then I'm suddenly shoved back into the present reality of being a grown up where nothing is ever simple and things seldom make perfect sense.

Life is tragic, fleeting, unpredictable, and yet it is, like this item, extraordinarily beautiful in the most complex of ways.
Wednesday
Jan072009

Colonialism Explained in 60 Seconds or Less

Yesterday's post reminded me of the clip below.

The PBS special that I mentioned will undoubtedly feature a whole episode on Britain's role in India's history.  Hmm, or should I say India's role in Britain's history?  (You love it when I get all post-modern on you, admit it.)

But, really, who needs a whole episode when Eddie Izzard explains it so well in less than sixty seconds?

Sometimes, the best explanation is the simplest.  And, of course, your point is only emphasized further if you're in drag.