Leigh Anne Treistman |
There is love story being written daily in America by Pakistani immigrants, but it is not one you are going to see played out on daily soaps, or on the TV drama series Dastaan. This is a different kind of love story altogether.
Walk into a gas station in the United States and you will find an educated, well spoken, Pakistani man, with an MBA or Ph.D. dissertation in progress working behind the counter. He has changed his name on his badge from Irfan, Naveed, or Shahid, to Steven, Michael, or James, in order to make it easier for Americans to pronounce.
Your family will not know that Ramadan was spent working 15 hours a day and that you grabbed food from a local restaurant on your way to catch a few hours of sleep before your next shift.
He greets you politely and his collared shirt is tucked in. He is doing everything he possibly can to “fit in”. He knows that “fitting in” is absolutely essential to the elderly parents he is supporting abroad. After a 12-hour shift selling soda, cigarettes and yes, alcohol which is literally unavoidable in the USA, he goes home to a sterile apartment.
He lies about the alcohol that he does not drink, because trying to explain that alcohol is sold in every single establishment including drug stores, food stores, and convenience stores, isn’t something his religiously observant mother is going to ever understand.
He is sleeping on an apartment floor with 5 other new Pakistani immigrants who have all come for the same reason: to support a family. These men are saying daily prayers from the floor of a convenience store, but they won’t say that. They hang on to every possible piece of Pakistan by gathering to play cricket on a Wednesday night in a parking lot of a local college.
They meet for Friday prayers when they can and take lunch together because the sit-down meal prepared by servants they pay for in Islamabad is not being served readily here. There is a mutual understanding amongst them you do not disclose the kind of working hours you are putting in, you do not disclose that you have not had a day off in 2 years straight, and when you call home you tell a few great stories to make your parents feel a little better while you are away.
When they are finally able to save enough money to travel home, the things the family is going to see are the American chocolates and the hottest new gadget on the market like an iPhone. Your family will not know that Ramadan was spent working 15 hours a day and that you grabbed food from a local restaurant on your way to catch a few hours of sleep before your next shift. And you sure don’t tell them that the funeral you are attending is not one, but one of several, that you have been to for friends doing one of the riskiest jobs in America.
The next time you encounter a person arriving home from a two-year stint in the States, I hope you will look at him differently. See past the bags of presents that they shopped for on Black Friday.
Let’s just say that the Pakistani man behind the counter has a solid pact with his fellow workers. You won’t tell.. I won’t tell. Send the dollars home to pay for the much-needed medicine. Send it home to pay for a doctor’s visit. Send it home to make life a little easier for the people you love, but do not disclose to your elderly parents what life looks like on this side of the world.
This is a love story running in the veins of the men who travel between both nations. Walk into a Valero, a Shell, an Exxon, and chances are the man behind the counter has parents and a family that he is supporting abroad. He’s in an economic spin which will last for years, if not decades.
While that economic pipeline from the US to Pak may be critical, there is something else going on too. As the Pakistani immigrant navigates between nations, cultural diffusion helps build friendships and establish relations that even the best-intentioned diplomat cannot form. An American kid asks about a cricket match he sees in a local park.
College kids go for Hookah together and inhale the sweet aroma of watermelon with mint. A friend calls you to go for chicken biryani at the new place down the street. You get invited to listen to the drums and voices of women singing and praying for a new bride. A kite festival is occurring in a neighborhood nearby. Pakistan has come to America.
The next time you encounter a person arriving home from a two-year stint in the States, I hope you will look at him differently. See past the bags of presents that they shopped for on Black Friday. Instead, hold them a little tighter. Hug them a little longer.
Walk through the old memories with them of the things they miss from home. Let them linger over a cup of tea you brewed that isn’t being served in a styrofoam cup. Because this is a love story he is writing every single day in his family’s honor from behind the counters inside America’s gas stations.
Leigh Anne is an educator and humanitarian living in the United States. She can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.