“Where are you from”?
My answer has always been the same – “Pakistan”.
My sense of belonging fluctuates like an erratic pulse and my nationalistic pride skyrockets when faced with a belligerent non-Pakistani who questions the mess my country has become.
This same engorged pride deflates quickly when I am by myself, surrounded by the silence which forces me to confront the truth about the mess my country has become.
I’d be lying if I painted a rosy picture of my life in Pakistan before immigrating to Australia at the age of 18. Australia was the Promised Land, the light at the end of a tunnel characterised by violence and poverty. I often dreamt of a time when I’d be the holder of a coveted Australian Passport. For me, that signified an end to the endless security checks and intrusive questions at the airport, or the endless wait (sometimes years) to get a visa to a “first-world” country. My parents told me much was at stake, that I was to go to Australia to cultivate a life where merit, equity and basic human rights were a given.
I was not prepared for the gut-wrenching pangs of homesickness that I experienced as soon as I landed. I had travelled numerous times before, but nothing prepared me for the realisation that I had to make Australia my home – a land where people spoke a different language, looked different, where I stood out like a sore thumb because I would not shed my religious beliefs to assimilate.
Australia has the potential to feel like home, for it is a country where I have truly thrived and discovered some interesting truths about myself. This is also a country where migrants and refugees are being called out for not “fitting in better”, where wearing a headscarf means you are not willing to conform to the “Australian way of life” and must immediately be classified as “the other”. When you qualify as a migrant and when your own Immigration Minister calls you out for being “illiterate, innumerate and a burden on our economy”, you inevitably take a step back and wonder, will Australia ever be home?
So for now, I am from Pakistan. And I have a feeling I always will be.