Usually upon hearing the common saying ‘home is where is the heart is’ most people don’t think twice about where home is. For me, its not so simple. I was born and raised in the US, so that is naturally where I am from. But my culture, my ethnicity, my religious beliefs and even my penchant for spicy food hail from Pakistan, making it my heritage. So for me, ‘home is where the heart is’ is a question that requires me to stop and think before answering.
To be honest, I can count how many times I have been to Pakistan on one hand. Additionally, I have never stayed in Pakistan for longer than one month at a time. Most often than not, most of my trips to Pakistan occurred when I was in school, over winter or summer breaks. At this point, you may be wondering then – how does someone who has been born and raised in the US, in Las Vegas to be more specific and out of all places, find solace or even a connection with a place like Pakistan, which can not be any more different than the city that I have spent most of my life and continue to reside in. My connection to Pakistan can simply be summed up in one word – family. Family meaning my own immediate family, my extended family, my family’s family and the feeling that a person of Pakistani decent gets when visiting. It is as if the entire country is your family and you have come home to where you belong, regardless of how foreign the country may seem to you or you to the country.
My mother and father have 7 siblings each – that makes for a lot of chachas, khalas, mamus, phupos and even more cousins. Then of course comes the second cousins and those distant members of your family that no one remembers how they are related anymore, but the connection is never of any consequence. All that matters is the family. Perhaps it is because seeing this – the concept of a huge family that engulfs everyone with in a 10 mile radius, a concept that is foreign in the States – I am able to appreciate the sacrifices that my parents made for my sister and I, even before we were born.
My parents left Pakistan in 1978, they left everyone and everything that they knew to start a brand new life in a brand new place – in the USA. The land of opportunity. Even though my sister and I didn’t come into existence until later, my parents came to America with us in mind. They wanted to start their family here. They wanted their children to have the opportunities and comfortable life that they didn’t. It is through their sacrifice that I am able to not only appreciate their connection to their family back home, and thus my connection via them, but also my connection to them and my own immediate family. Sometimes I feel as if this concept of sacrifice, of selflessness within one’s family is not as prevalent in North America as it is in Asia.
I have fond memories of visiting Pakistan as a child. I remember feeling as if everyday was a celebration! For myself and my family returning to Pakistan from abroad, was a very big deal for my relatives. It was as if our visit was a personal accomplishment of theirs. They took so much joy and pride in our being there, even if it was only for a few weeks. I remember that I was never alone – I was always surrounded by various family members. Our family home was constantly filled with cousins playing cricket, laughter from my khalas, discussions about religion and politics amongst my mamus and the azaan, praying and recitation of the Qur’an by my grandparents was a constant reminder of our faith. As a result, the feeling of simple happiness and protection that is offered by family has become associated with my idea of what Pakistan is.
I was also able to learn through the rich history of Pakistan, why my relatives and even my parents were so proud of their culture. I was able to visit such amazing and historical sites such as the Lahore Fort, Minar-e-Pakistan and Faisal Mosque. The intricacies of architecture and stories that supported these structures was so different than what I was used to in Las Vegas, the self proclaimed capital of entertainment. Over time, I too learned to be proud of my family and realized that it wasn’t only their heritage but my own. I looked at my family with awe – this large group comprised of bankers, architects, designers, journalists and doctors. They instilled in me a desire to embrace the world and culture and to develop a hunger for knowledge. I came to value the importance of the arts, literature and music. Most important, however, I learned with each trip the importance of family. Despite how hurried our visits were or how many years apart our trips were, we were always surrounded, always together as a family, as one unit.
My experiences growing up were much different than many people. Growing up as a Pakistani in Sin City, as a Muslim in the United States, I was one of very few. More than anything, I felt alone. But in Pakistan the family never lets you feel so helpless.
Pakistan has offered me what no other country, or city, could ever duplicate, and that is love. I learned the essence of love from my family in Pakistan throughout the years. Las Vegas may always be home, but Pakistan has my heart. That home can never be replaced.