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“Aap meri choti shezadi ho, Hannah,” my Pakistani grandfather told me before I moved to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia. I was later able to translate his loving Urdu words into English: “You are my little princess, Hannah.” I am a Pakistani-Burmese-American, and I have been culturally confused my entire life.
Walking to school every morning in a pair of blue jeans, I am American. I say the Pledge of Allegiance, speak English, and seek company and am influenced by my American peers. Yet, the moment I step foot into my house, I am greeted with “Asalamualiakum,” and I am Pakistani again. The spicy, nose-opening scent of biryani and the beautiful native tongue of my mother are what make my house my home. My closet has a separate section for shalwar kameezai, and my television has a multitude of Urdu channels. At my family reunions, I am reminded once again of the hardships my brave Burmese grandmother and her family encountered as they migrated from Burma to Pakistan. I am Pakistani, Burmese, and American. This lineage shapes who I am today.
My cultural identity used to be a way for me to please others by obediently following customs. I would dress in a shalwar kameez to please my parents and speak a few words in Urdu to please my grandfather. As a Pakistani immigrant to the U.S., my mother could not understand my separate American identity. Over time, I became adept at reconciling my starkly different cultures. As I grow older, I feel less and less obligated to follow a cultural norm, but instead feel the need to integrate my culture and identity into one. No longer do I feel trapped within these cultural confines. Instead, I feel motivated to use it as a way of defining who I represent. I represent those first generation young adults who come from different backgrounds, struggling with the choice between assimilating into American culture or rejecting it.
I also represent the girls in Pakistan like Malala Yousufzai, who struggle daily to receive an education, which is denied to them because of their gender. As an American Pakistani living in the United States, I have access to resources that my counterparts in Pakistan have to fight rigorously for to enjoy. I strive to show those Pakistani girls and all onlookers that a Pakistani girl can and should be educated. I represent the product of the American dream, coming from parents who never dreamed of having the same opportunities I had when they were children. In this country, Pakistani girls can be journalists or lawyears, and I am honored to represent both cultures as I pursue my American dream.
My culture does not define me; I define my culture. No longer am I solely one cultural identity at a time. I am a journalist, a poet, a daughter, and a friend. I am all at once a Pakistani-Burmese-American, and I am proud.
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