Where Are You From?

MC40_questionmarkI was five years old when my parents came from Canada. They were refugees from Pakistan. One year after we arrived, my brother was born. Another year passed and my sister came along. In those early years, I never knew what identity was but I did know that I was different.

Growing up as an immigrant child was hard. The first question I was often asked was “where are you from?” The easy answer was Pakistan. It was a part of me. Besides, I thought living in Canada was difficult. I was bullied for being a “Paki”, my protective parents didn’t allow me to go to sleepovers and movies and my clothes smelled like the Pakistani spices my mom used in our traditional food. I was caught between two worlds and didn’t know how to reconcile them.

I am not sure when it happened but sometime during my elementary school years, saying that I was from Pakistan was no longer the easy answer to give. My memories and life in Canada became more familiar.  My parents encouraged me to celebrate and contribute to my new home and remember the one I left. I remember attending my Citizenship Ceremony and excitedly telling my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Burnett that I was now a Canadian.

I volunteered at an MPP’s office and had my first trip to Ottawa where I called my mom from the Peace Tower at the Parliament of Canada in awe of where I was standing.

During my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto, I began to travel during the summers. Working abroad in various communities, I was asked the same question I had been asked in Canada “Where are you from?” I answered, “from Canada”

The next question was “Where are you really from?” In frustration, sometimes dismay, I would answer, “I was born in Pakistan but I grew up in Canada”. I was very proud of my Pakistani birth and early years but I was also very sure that my home was now Canada.

In 2009, my family decided to go back to Pakistan. I was excited and nervous. Before we left Canada, I remember thinking no one will ask me where I was from – I speak fluent Urdu, wear the traditional shalwar kameez and will not stand out in a crowd.

When we arrived in Lahore, I went out with my family and ordered a chana dish from a street vendor. I just started to eat it when a woman’s voice behind me quietly asked “App kahan se hain?” meaning “Where are you from?”

I couldn’t believe it. Not here!

I was born only a few hours drive from Lahore in a town called Sargodha. I told her I was from Pakistan. She wasn’t convinced and asked again.

I said, “I was born in Pakistan but grew up in Canada.” We struck up a conversation and talked about our lives in different parts of world. I couldn’t help but think of the person I would be if my family had never left Pakistan. When I arrived back in Canada, I was overwhelmed by that unexplainable feeling of “home” when I saw Toronto.

Today, I still get asked where I am from. To say that I am Pakistani-Canadian is the easy and the right answer to give. I may have been born in one part of the world and relish in the few memories I have but Canada is my home. Together, the two places have made me who I am and for that, I am grateful.

-Sadia in Mississauga