For many of the diaspora in this country, reconciling the threads of our identity across two continents has been a lifelong task. Diaspora is a name for second and third generation immigrants, whose parents or grandparents or even great grandparents found themselves on boats and planes across the commonwealth called by the echoes of colonial legacy. Despite over almost fifteen Khalas, Khalos, Phuppos and Chachos; more cousins than I can count and a beautifully complex family tree rooted in my motherland, living 4,000 miles away from there was never going to be easy.
Growing up, my relationship with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents consisted of hurried five minute conversations in broken Urdu, followed by me stuffing the phone back into my mum or dad’s hand or being dragged to Pakistan every two years whilst I dreamt of anywhere else. As a 20 year old woman, growing up in England and seeing more and more people across the country tell me I don’t belong has forced me to reassess my connection with ancestry and what my lack of connection with my extended family means for my identity.
“I believe that Desi children know better than most what it means to find friends who understand your experience.”
There’s always been a jealousy within me towards friends who confided in their aunts or could hold a meaningful conversation with their grandfather. When I watched American TV shows like Modern Family or Ugly Betty, I would crave the trusting relationships those kids had with their cousins. I remember wondering what it must feel like to go on a fun day out with your aunt and uncle, or share family war stories with cousins who understood the culture you lived in.
I believe that Desi children know better than most what it means to find friends who understand your experience. I was always acutely aware that I was a product of my parents and of the family and culture they grew up in, but I felt no connection. Finding people who understood what that felt like is liberating.
I know it’s the same for so many second or third generation immigrants who live in the UK. My life, compared to that of my ancestors, is so different that I sometimes question if my grandmother would recognise or understand the woman I have become. The life of a young woman living in London in her early 20s in the 21st century is incalculably different to that of my grandmother, living in rural Pakistan in the 1960s.
“The line between unfaltering support and ostracisation is one diaspora walk along incredibly carefully.”
My nephew was born in December and through circumstance, when Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown on March 23rd 2020, it meant 19 weeks (and counting) of unadulterated time, spent watching him grow up. One aim close to my heart is to raise this new generation in a different way. A way in which they have role models and people to look up to when they are feeling lost.
The community and family I grew up in was one where, when someone died, you would have more food than space in your house; more condolences than room in your heart and a huge network of support spanning from down your road to across the world. It was also one where I have had hurried conversations with closeted LGBTQ+ Muslims and second generation immigrants who have found themselves lost with the newfound freedom that moving out of the house brings, as well as having no one close to confide in. The line between unfaltering support and ostracisation is one diaspora walk along incredibly carefully.
“Whilst I hold so much love in my heart for my family scattered across the globe, trying to talk to one of them about weaving together my Muslim identity with university drinking culture would bring any conversation we have to a sudden halt.”
Trying to find a unique community of like-minded people is difficult and has led to personal feelings of isolation. I think that talking openly about issues of identity and culture is something Pakistani diaspora must work on diligently. It is rare to find older generations who have gone through the same struggles of identity, soul searching and growing up that you can seek advice or look up to. Whilst I hold so much love in my heart for my family scattered across the globe, trying to talk to one of them about weaving together my Muslim identity with university drinking culture would bring any conversation we have to a sudden halt.
There is an unspoken community of diaspora, all a similar age, who understand one another and the internal conflict and journey we are going through when we leave home to navigate this world with fresh eyes. However, especially when you move in the same circles of family friends, the fear of being caught in a lie often keeps us from opening up to one another. Learning to juggle both lives is still an art to be perfected.
All of this has forced me to reflect on the relationships my generation will carve with the next. Unlike with myself, where land, tongue and culture built a brick wall between myself and my identity, it would be different now. This is a generation that will be even more detached from their motherland than the last – growing up with heavy Western influence, with parents, grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents born in the UK too.
“I know the curves and contours, the moods and grooves of my country sometimes better than I know myself. The increasing xenophobia and unapologetically racist government makes me worried for the future of my nephew.”
This lockdown is most likely going to be the only time in mine and my nephew’s life where we will be able to spend every day with one another. My nephew’s arrival into this world has been a stark reminder of the values and experiences most important to myself and to society.
This pandemic has been the first time in my living memory where, as a nation, life and family was forced to take precedent over work and the economy. Trying to undo years of capitalist mindset has been difficult and I want to show this new generation that it is possible to be productive and happy. Achieving this might be difficult but I hope to lead by example by putting my happiness and self-care first.
“To my fellow children of immigrants, it is our time to rewrite the narrative of what place we have in society and if those born here will ever feel at home. A natural responsibility has fallen on our shoulders.”
I know the curves and contours, the moods and grooves of my country sometimes better than I know myself. The increasing xenophobia and unapologetically racist government makes me worried for the future of my nephew. Now three generations removed from Pakistan, the UK’s language, culture and land is his home, where we have our own network of roots; but if Windrush, Shamima Begum and the increasingly stringent immigration policy is anything to go by, feeling secure is only going to become more foreign. This new generation will have to navigate a world similar and yet different in equal measure. I want to be there as a friend for him to trust and someone he is proud to call his Khala.
To my fellow children of immigrants, it is our time to rewrite the narrative of what place we have in society and if those born here will ever feel at home. A natural responsibility has fallen on our shoulders, as with every generation before us, to try and treat those how we wished to be treated.
We know the trials and tribulations of Western capitalist culture coupled with a hostile environment. Finding a sense of community, making an impact on our young relatives, finding a voice in the arts world and having a cohesive movement has never been more important in finding a place for ourselves, the family that we are creating outside our motherland and the future. In 20 years time, when my nephew is my age, I want to see a world in which he is resolute in his identity, his home and has a community he can trust but that isn’t possible unless we set them up for success.
Family photograph courtesy of Asyia Iftikhar. @AsyiaIftikhar