Where are you from?


May 17, 2010

Who are the Chiniotis?” “They are people who fail the Memon entrance exam.” The entire hall roared with laughter during a stand-up comedy I attended with friends last month. Although just a joke (and humour about ethnic roots and its peculiar traits always makes for a good laugh) it is a fact that we all love to joke about things which play an important part in our lives. Ethnicity being one of them.

In Pakistan, every time I meet new people, the first, and apparently the most important question that is directed my way is always the same: “Who are you?” Just last night, at a dinner an aunty asked: “Beta, where is your family from?” And the answer expected in return was that of naming my ethnicity. Contrarily, to my friends in England and the US, their ethnicity is irrelevant. They do not care if they came from a Celtic background or whether their grandparents were of Irish descent who settled in New England. Instead, they take pride in being just English or just Americans. And that’s it!

However we Pakistanis like to wear our ethnicity as a badge of pride. Being a Mohajir then, it is considered ‘more important’ to be sanguine about the fact that my ancestors migrated from the United Provinces in India. Likewise someone from Peshawar who has been living in Karachi for 30 years will consider himself as a Pathan first and then a Karachiite, and also probably a Pathan first and a Pakistani second. No matter how much we like to celebrate our linguistic and cultural differences, most of us find solace in our ethnic identities that define our values and galvanise our personality.

Taking pride is one thing, but believing that ethnicity speaks to hope and well being is another, and quite disturbing. When will we all become one people? Shouldn’t we too put our nationality first so that we become united as Pakistanis?

Published in the Express Tribune, May 18th, 2010.

COMMENTS (8)

Aamna | 11 years ago | Reply "People in UK and the US don’t care where anyone’s from???Really???" Sara, the writer did not use the word 'anyone!' It is a fact that to people in the US and UK, ehnicity is not as impprtant as it is to people in our part of the world, with the exception of blacks & latinos (who have a different history altogether & thus can not be compared to the ethnic tribes in Pakistan).
Ayesha Ijaz Khan | 11 years ago | Reply I don't agree with the writer. Sarah (above) is correct in her comments that talking about ethnicities, etc is not unique to Pakistan. I also find it curious that the writer has chosen to lump together the US and the UK whereas the dynamic in the two countries is vastly different. For instance, there is UK---which includes Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Incidentally, the football (soccer to Americans) team only represents England to the exclusion of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Can you imagine if something like that happened in Pakistan? So what if Pakhtuns in Karachi refer to their part of the country as "watan"? Big deal. When it comes to our cricket team, the same Pakhtun will support Pakistan. Let's not overreact to little differences.
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