cover photo: Tony Webster AP / Flickr A photograph of 2016 presidential candidate Donald J. Trump lit up with flood lights in a suburban backyard near Jordan Creek Parkway and Cody Drive in West Des Moines, Iowa.
“Good luck for your stay in America” I heard.
“I will be safe!“ They heard.
“You never know, if Trump gets elected” I got a reply once.
“oh well, then I guess I will be back sooner” And we all laughed.
It’s hard to believe that a political joke enjoyed 4 months earlier, turned out to be a reality.
I started my journey in New York , 4 months ago, to pursue my dream of psychology at the most idealized school, ever. The New School. Coming from Pakistan, I knew I had a lot of challenges to face, but what kept me going was the Academic value this experience had for me and my Country. Just like everyone among the very competitive pool of Fulbrighters from Pakistan and around the world, I was over-whelmed at each stage – United States of America (the global, collective dream), New York, The New School. It was like being a White European Man, all of a sudden, in power and prestige.
This did not last long. As I began my journey, I first realized that I can’t meet my family at my own leisure. I was here!! Stuck in New York until my degree finishes. Making way through the time difference, language barriers, culture shock, I also realized that my life was changing by 180 degrees.
The way girls are brought up in Pakistan is very protective. Many of the things I learned in US, are not considered to be okay or normative in my culture. For example, going to school or work in Pakistan, one is always accompanied by someone they can trust with the dignity of a woman. From simple things such as picking up groceries, to surviving a housing scam, I was going through a lot.
It was not the culture, language, food, family or the life-style that I was missing. I was missing my Pakistani identity. I could not relate to what I was doing, because I had never done it. I had never bothered using maps to navigate my way and now I found myself lost in the subway. I had never learned that losing my way, meant finding another, all by myself. Though I did not give up, I was still looking for an identity, a vision, I could relate to.
In this time of turmoil, as I say, I learned about myself more than anything else. All events set aside, I was excited to meet my professors, most of which I had only read about. Learning more, in the field I am passionate about, was at times more than I could take. I did not know how to express what I felt. However, some classes left me depressed. When I learned that we have a natural inclination towards prejudice, stereotype and discrimination against outgroups, I felt weak, harassed, insecure and vulnerable because I was a woman, a Muslim and a Pakistani. Although I was never a target of discrimination, but I felt it deep inside.
This increased to multiple times as we got closer to the elections. I would walk down the street, without making eye-contact due to a fear of being recognized, an Asian through my eyes. I spoke less due to my accent. I covered more, due to the color of my skin. I interacted less, because I felt little. I used less public space, because I was a woman. I never went to a mosque, because of the fear of being seen. I hid my identity because I was ashamed.
This amplified to the peak when Trump won. The night of 11/09 , I was so upset, I barely did a thing and kept wondering, what if the first thing in the morning is Trump, giving his presidential speech. I had not realized until then, that what I had been joking about with my peers back home, was going to be my reality and that I will live it for the next two years.
More than anything, Trump’s victory has evoked fear among many. We are all familiar with his fascist, sexists, misogynistic ideas. The more I think about it as a foreigner, the more I believe that America is moving back in time to where the civil war began. And this time, its not just the Africans. It’s everyone! From white to black. Everyone is equally vulnerable because aggression has been evoked explicitly. The freedom of speech is domineering just negative thoughts out in the world.
As much as I felt threatened after Trump’s victory, I realized that it was time to be bigger and better than who I am right now. There is no point in being afraid and packing my bags to go home safe. It was time to rise from self-oppression to bravery. It was time that I over-power my helplessness and do with what I have. My mind. I can not change the president of the United States. I can not change the fact that our minds are inclined towards discrimination. I can not change the culture, life-style and language. But what I can do is to rise through this and focus on meaningful impact in my daily life.
Though I felt insecure at many levels, I started believing in what I had been doing in Pakistan for the last two years. That is, My voice Unheard – an initiative trying to bring a counter-narrative to the uni-dimensional image of Pakistani’s and Muslims around the world through story-telling and self-expression.
I believe in the power of pragmatism and that everyone has a role to play. Some people express themselves by protesting outside, some people through writing, some contribute by being by-standers. For me, I started a new mission- to bring a counter-narrative through story telling. To encourage people to think about their identity and express it safely, with audiences who have a negative perception about other groups. In my defense, to call for Muslims in the United States, to express their identity, belief and practice, in order to bring a new perspective to individuals who stereotype. I find this valuable and relevant to the time we are in. Where misconceptions and generalizability has led us to empty souls, carrying immorality. My Voice Unheard is for all the voices that are screaming inside, but can’t be heard. With a little effort, I believe we all could have ourselves heard for what is true, among the many lies.
I sometimes feel lucky to have been a part of campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter and #IamMuslimIamNYC. This isn’t because it’s a pleasing experience, but because we all have the opportunity to make a difference, a small impact that can go a long way. To me, Trump’s victory is not a matter of representing the population with contrary views, protest, cursing, asking him to leave, but to be stronger with other individuals and to try to bring harmony to this chaotic world. Today’s times tell us much more about our own behaviour, rather than others. But we always take an essentialist path- ignoring everything about our own attitudes and thought process. I think this is the best time for introspection, and doing what we can to stay united, sharing one common relation of humanity alone.
About Author: Anum Nawaz is a co-founder of My Voice Unheard, a humanistic project that aims at bringing a counter-narrative to the uni-dimensional and clichéd image of Pakistan through self-expression.
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