(I’m)migrant: An Interview with Kainat Akmal

Daniel: Where are you parents from?

Kainat: My parents are from Karachi, Pakistan.

Daniel: And when did they come to America?

Kainat: Okay so the story is they got married in 94. I think it was in March or April. It was an arranged marriage. The first time they saw each other was literally on their wedding day, and they went on their honeymoon and stuff. So my mom got pregnant and then my dad went back to America because he was already working in America, Queens, New York. Him and his brother, they work at the gas station. They would send back money. My mom was living with her in laws. Then she had me in January of 1995. So I think what happened was they were working out paper work, immigration, and citizenship. My dad was already a citizen. I think he wanted to be a citizen before he got married and got kids just because it makes the process so much easier. So October 1995, my mom and me left Pakistan to come to Queens, New York to meet my dad, and that’s when I first met my dad. That’s how my parents immigrated.

Daniel: So wait, when did your dad get here? 

Kainat: I don’t know. I think he’s been in American since the 90’s. I know that. He used to work for the PIA, Pakistani International Airlines and so I know he had traveled around and been to different countries and stuff. But America was where he wanted to go, land of opportunity right? I think times then were much easier for Pakistani immigrants to come to America, compared to know where it’s even impossible to get a visa to come here.

Daniel: So you and your mom moved here?

Kainat: Yeah we moved to Queens.

Daniel: So you were nationalized when you got here?

Kainat: Yeah.

Daniel: So did you do the whole citizenship test?

Kainat: Well I was 8 months old. So I don’t remember what exactly it was like. We have the certificate and that was from 1999. That’s when I became a citizen. So I guess it must have taken a while. My sister was actually born in Queens so she didn’t have to go through the whole thing. My dad had citizenship, so that made it easier.

Daniel: So were they married in India physically?

Kainat: Pakistan. Yes, their actual marriage was in Pakistan?

Daniel: And your dad was already working here?

Kainat: Yes. I think he went back to get married. And then got married, and pregnant and moved back.

Daniel: So how did they meet, if that’s the right term?

Kainat: So in Pakistan arranged marriages are very common.

Daniel: Is that a normal thing?

Kainat: Yeah. I think it is a normal thing. I think it’s the whole idea of we don’t want to give our daughter off to some random family, so I would rather give her to my brother’s son who we’ve grown up with, who we are familiar with. And like it’s becoming less and less common as time goes on. My grandpa is Punjabi, and my grandma on my mom’s side is Muhajir. And those are people who immigrated from India to Pakistan when the partition happened because they want to live in a Muslim country. So they got married, and had seven kids. And all of the kids before my mom, she’s not the youngest but maybe there’s like four kids before her. They all got married to Urdu speakers, which is what my grandma was. And my grandpa was like I want one of my kids to marry a Punjabi, so it doesn’t die out with this. He was looking around for my mom to marry someone. He had a family friend and they were talking about this guy named Ajmal Khan, which is my dad’s dad’s name and he was a really good guy, very bold, very honest. Like your typical hard working man and stuff, and one of the nicest guys. And he’s like, he has a son and I think your daughter could marry him. And my grandpa really liked the fact that he was Punjabi. He loved it, and the fact that people only said good things about him, very positive things about them and stuff made my grandpa really happy. I think it was my dad’s mom’s friend who recommended it. So they got set up and I think their marriage day came, and that’s when they saw each other for the first time. My dad said he fell in love with my mom when he first met her; but my mom said she didn’t. My mom’s a savage.

Daniel: In what way? Explain that.

Kainat: In Pakistan, Urdu speakers (Muhajirs) have a reputation of being very honest. And when they joke, it’s like they’re making fun of you. They’re very brutal. My mom is like that. Karachi has the largest Urdu speaking population in Pakistan. So a lot of people from Karachi are very tough and they’re actually what someone from New York would be like. They’re blunt. They say things right away and they joke around. When they joke it’s like they’re making fun of you, and not laughing with you. That’s what my mom is like. My dad’s like the exact opposite. Very quiet guy, never says anything, never curses. My mom curses constantly and not very aggressive, but straightforward. She loves joking around, but not the jokes that are nice jokes.

Daniel: So she’d fit in perfectly in New York. 

Kainat: She loves New York. My parents love New York so much. When they immigrated to a new country they wanted to live with people who are like them. They lived in a whole apartment full of people from India and Pakistan, which is what they’re most familiar with. Their floor had a lot of Sikhs. So when they moved to America, my mom was really happy because their floor was full of Sikhs. My mom was really happy because it was all about caring about each other, even though they’re from a different country, and different religion. It was still like we grew up with the same style, and same kind of respect in our family. They were strangers, but strangers from the same area.

Daniel: I want to talk about them a little more, before getting to you. What do you think the hardest part about living in America is, or was?

Kainat: The two things that I can think of are the language barrier, and the loneliness in the sense of like how all of my mom’s siblings and her parents are in Pakistan. None of them have left at that time. Then my dad, he had his brother, so he was fine, and he lived in New York before my mom. He built a little community. But he would be at work all day and my mom would be at home a lot. I think she still barely knew my dad. They just got married a year ago. Then she had me. I couldn’t talk because I was like a year old. So I think that was maybe the hardest part for my mom, not being around her parents. I think the scariest thing is the fact that like their parents are older. If one of them suddenly passed away they couldn’t just go back to Pakistan. They could for like a day or two but that was probably the hardest part. Making your own community, and then just dealing with being away. My dad’s family is not as close as my mom’s family, who is very very close. Skype wasn’t a thing at the time. I think it was like the calling card thing which costs money so that’s hard. There’s the time difference. There’s the adjusting to things here. I think the nice thing, at the time was that Islamaphobia wasn’t as big as it is now so it may have been a bit easier. But it still existed. But I think my parents are really glad they came to New York as their first place.

Daniel: Do both of your parents speak English? 

Kainat: Yeah my mom speaks it much better than my dad, which is interesting. My dad can speak English but it’s not the best. It’s still very broken but it’s interesting because he’s the one that worked the most here, like worked with people. My mom is mostly a stay at home mom but my mom is such a learner. She loved watching TV. She loves watching it. She’d watch a lot of Oprah and stuff, and I think she learned English that way. I think since she was at home with us, me and my sister at the time before my brothers were born at the time, she’d talk English with us too. Only because she didn’t want us to not know English at the same time. It’s funny because she does not talk English to us. She only talks to us in Urdu because I don’t want you to lose your language and stuff. My sister and I pretty much know Urdu, but my brothers don’t at all because they’re younger. My brothers also had me and my sister helping them. Me and my sister talk to each other in English.

Daniel: Would you describe them as being assimilated then? Assimilated is probably not even a fair term because it’s so nuanced. Parts of you probably are assimilated, and parts of you probably retain who you want to be. So how would you define them?

Kainat: Not at all. Not at all. My mom, she hates the whole idea of seeing South Asian kids take on American names, or dressing like them and eating food like them. The way they talk back to their moms, my mom hates that. I think she put a very strong emphasis that you may be in America, but the house is Pakistani. We only ate Pakistani food growing up. The most I’ve eaten out is when I got to college. Growing up my mom would never let us eat out. She hates American food. She’s never had peanut butter. I think she likes pizza, but only from Pizza Hut. And she likes McDonalds’ fries.

Daniel: Wait, sorry. How long have they lived in New York?

Kainat: They lived in New York for like a year or two, before they moved to Kansas, and then Indiana. New York was easier because there were a lot of South Asians so they had a lot of South Asian restaurants. Jackson Heights, they were near Jackson Heights. So in terms of food and culture, it was easier because the community was already there. So I think there’s no need to assimilate there, while in Kansas there was not much of a community. My dad’s cousin lived there, but still, there weren’t that many restaurants. There weren’t a lot of Mosques to go pray at, and then Indiana, in Indianapolis, surprisingly, there are a lot of South Asians, but not as much as Chicago or New York. At our house, we don’t watch American shows that much. My mom watches them, but my dad doesn’t. We always have Pakistani news on. Pakistani news or Cricket because that’s what my dad likes to watch. And then my parents, we always watch Bollywood movies growing up, so I know a lot of Bollywood movies and songs. My mom prays five times a day.

Daniel: So do you and your siblings have non-American names?

Kainat: We have Pakistani-Muslim names, yeah.

Daniel: And also then, do you see the divide between you and your siblings then because like you said, you are the closest one to your roots?

Kainat: Yeah I think so. Even though I was born there, I came here when I was 8 months. I was raised here basically. And my brothers were all raised here too. I think sometimes there’s a divide. I think sometimes my brothers don’t understand our values and traditions as much. Last year, my brother was 14. Just got into high school. And was talking to my mom, and spit in her face. And I’m just like…My sister’s name is Hina and we were just like…what? No. My mom used to hit me. She would get mad even if I raised my hand like don’t hit me more. You know? That would make her hit me more. I don’t know if this happened to you, but sometimes she would hit my leg and and my hand would raise, but she would hit that spot even more because she knew I was trying to defend myself. In that moment I thought she was going to hit him because that’s literally what happened to me and Hina growing up. But she didn’t. She just like acted with a very calm voice, which is very scary at the same time because it’s like what is she thinking. My sister and I are like how the fuck do you think you can do that? That is not okay. I think sometimes there’s trying to get them to understand and sometimes they give in to like assimilating. I don’t know if you know Park Tutor. But it’s the most expensive private school in Indiana. And they go to that school where there’s a ton of rich, white, Republican, Christians. They’re super rich. You know what makes me mad? When my brothers re-tell stories about my parents, and they do it with the accent. I don’t know if you saw the comedian here last year, Hari Kondabolu.

Daniel: Was he in the Fall? Or was this in the Spring? I was in Amsterdam. 

Kainat: It was spring. But he’s a very good comedian. Follow him on Twitter. But he was saying it’s so ridiculous when kids do that, when they mock their parents with the accents.

Daniel: What’s his name?

Kainat: I don’t know how to spell it but his last name is like very long. H-a-r-i…he’s actually popular. I really like him. But he was talking about the importance of not needing to do that when you tell a story about your parents. You don’t need to mock their accents. Like that’s not necessary. The point is what they actually said, not how they said it. But my brothers always do that. They like to play off the fact that they’re Pakistani-Muslim. Sometimes if they’re with their friends they’ll like call them Osama and play along with it. And I’m like don’t do that. I don’t know. I think they’re in a weird place, and I think I was like that at their age too. When I was growing up, I would never talk to Brown kids. I hated talking to them because I didn’t want to become one of the stereotypical brown kids that would just hang out in their little cliques. I would only hang out with the white kids because that’s what I wanted to be. I hated that. I pretended that I wasn’t Pakistani, even though I clearly was. I cannot hide my skin. I clearly was. But then I got to college and was like what am I doing? White people are so fake, so artificial. I’m so tired of talking to them. I started meeting more people here that are people of color, and I just totally fit more into this crowd even though I talk like I’m white. And I’m trying to get them to understand to not be embarrassed of who they are. But it’s so hard. I think it’s just that age too. I think there’s a divide in that sense. I always tell them to don’t give in. Be proud of your culture. Be okay with it. My brothers love Pakistani food but they hate bringing it to school, just because the kids are like that smells. They hate it. Literally in 10 years these kids will be going to Indian restaurants and calling it gourmet. That’s what literally happens. White kids always do that. It’s sad. It’s sad because I was also like that.

Daniel: Can you describe what that moment was like, when you realized it? Or maybe that wasn’t a moment, but a process that like happened over time?

Kainat: I think I always knew I wasn’t going to fit in with them only in the sense that I was in Carmel. They aren’t poor like me. They’re rich white kids, very rich kids. Like one of my friends owned a plane. One of my friends had an Island. Just very very wealthy kids and stuff. I think it wasn’t even like a racial divide. You guys also can’t relate to the fact that I’m poor. This is why I have a texting phone, and not an iPhone. This is why I don’t have a car. Even though my parents put me through private school, we were all on financial aid. The uniforms that I wore were used uniforms while they brought brand new ones. They had the new spirit wear, and I was like, I can’t afford that. I went to Carmel schools my whole life from 3rd grade to like freshmen year of high school. I went to Carmel high school, and it was like 5000 kids. I had 1200 kids in my grade and I just wasn’t getting the one on one attention that I needed so my parents told me since day one, the reason we brought you to America is because it’s the land of opportunity and we are not paying for your college, at all. They’re like, there’s no reason for it. It’s America. It’s not Pakistan where you can be smart and still not get scholarships. So my mom, after my freshmen year of high school said that she’s going to put me in a private catholic that opened up in Carmel, or Noblesville which is close to Carmel. And they’re like, we’ll spend money here only in the hopes that we’re not going to pay for college. And so that’s what happened. When I transferred there I got put in from 1200 kids to 200 kids. And then it was like the richest of the richest kids because it’s a private school, and it’s in Carmel. And it was a catholic school. It was interesting because it was like Muslim at a catholic school. There are a few divides just in the sense that they would make fun of Pakistani or Indian people they saw on TV, or they would do their jokes and stuff. And I’m like there’s only so much I can laugh off. There are moments where I would assimilate all the time. One of the moments I assimilated was sophomore year. I remember I was sitting at lunch and it was when they wanted to build a mosque on ground zero. And everyone was just like, it’s not a good idea. We shouldn’t do that. They should not build that there. They have to be sensitive. 9/11 happened there and all this shit. And someone’s like, Kainat, what do you think? Everyone’s like she’s Muslim. Everyone knew at my school that my sister and I were Muslim because we were the only Muslims at the time. And they’re like, what do you think? And I’m just like I agree. I even said “they” as in like, I wasn’t a Muslim. I’m like yeah, I don’t think they should do it. I’m like it just doesn’t make sense. They could build it further away and stuff. I just gave in. Looking back, I’m like, I’m so dumb. That’s annoying. My mom always said this to me growing up. We can give you what white kids have. We can put you in private school. We can give you a car. We can give you a phone and you can act like them and everything. But they’ll never accept you. You’ll never be one of them. And I didn’t believe her. That’s not true. I’m at the same school as them. They’re my friends. We hang out. But eventually, I realized that was true. When Osama Bin Laden died––you know how he’s from Pakistan? I remember when I got into class…in every class we would do prayers. And when we do prayers they’re like, do you have any intentions. And people would say, my dad, he’s traveling. I hope he’s safe. And someone’s like, for Kainat’s dad…cause he just passed away in Pakistan. And I just laughed it off because I thought it was funny. But I’m like that is not funny at all. That’s like actually terrible. And like was I laughing because I thought it was funny or was it because I didn’t want them to egg me on even more and stuff. I think it’s the little things that started clicking in my head. I’ll never be one of them. Asian Americans, we’re the model minority. And a lot of them will assimilate and stuff in hopes of being one of them, but we literally never will be.

Daniel: It’s two sides of the same coin of oppression basically. 

Kainat: Reminiscing. I hate myself. You know what I mean? Why did I give in? I just thought if I acted white and hung out with white people, maybe I would be considered white. But we literally never will be. And I thought things were going to be more open. People are going to be talking about these important issues. But they’re still not. My brother last year, he was telling me how in his class, his teacher called him Aladdin. And I’m like…that’s bogus. And he’s like yeah, he should remember my name. I’m like your name is Mohammad. One of the most common names in the world. He can remember Mohammad. And he’s like yeah, he just called me Aladdin. And I’m like yeah, that’s because he probably thinks you’re Middle Eastern, you’re Muslim. My brother laughed it off. And I’m like can you give me the email of this teacher? Can I email him? That’s not okay. If the teacher can do it then the other kids can do it. It’s the little things. I don’t think there was one single moment when I realized it. It was just like things building up. Especially because DePauw is not diverse. It’s diverse from where I came from, from Carmel. So I had the option there to see other people, like Shelley Simon who’s Indian. And I’m like wow, another brown kid and I actually wanted to hang out with her and I love it now. The reason I chose DePauw was because it didn’t have any brown kids. You know what I mean? But other schools did. I didn’t want to go to a school with a lot of Indians or Pakistanis.

Daniel: Where else were you looking?

Kainat: Butler. Butler had a lot of them. It’s like twice the size of DePauw; it’s not that much bigger. It’s in Indianapolis. A lot of Pakistani-Indian kids, when their parents tell them to go away for school, but you can stay at home, Butler is close enough where a lot of them can do that. IUPUI, IU, Purdue, all those schools had bigger populations than DePauw. I think South Asians, I can count all in my hands right now, how many there are here. Then I got here, and I was like, I actually like them. And I’m glad I came. I can talk about South Asian food with them, and talk about little cultural things we had, or watch Bollywood movies with them, and not have to explain to them why my parents think the way they do. I think I have the option here, and I just got tired of white kids. Initially when I got here I was like, I tried hanging out with the white kids, and I’m like this is so boring. Like no one is funny, and you guys all talk about the exact same thing. Being a Bonner, there are more people of color too. And at DePauw that was my first experience at orientation. And I was like, I actually like people of color. Not that I hated them before, but I never interacted with them because there were none of them in my school growing up. There were like one or two black kids, one or two Latino. I think in college, I stopped hating myself, and my culture.

Daniel: What did that moment feel like? 

Kainat: I think the moment felt freeing. It was like why do I have to hide something. Especially because we can’t hide it. I mean you look Asian, I look Indian-Pakistani. Like we look like it. It’s nothing we can hide. It’s great. I love it so much. Now I love brown people, and I love my culture, and tweeting about it. Before I wouldn’t tweet about it, or Instagram, or Facebook because I want to be as far away Dissociated as I can be. And I think another thing was that it’s not fair to my parents. Only because they did the journey, and they carried the burden and all that stuff. And not it’s kind of like I’m going to pretend you’re not from that country. You didn’t work hard.

Daniel: That’s a denial of their existence. 

Kainat: Obviously they’re not going to notice or care. But seeing my brothers. I think that’s the biggest thing. Like seeing them do it and I’m like that’s really painful to see that. And I try to shape them, and tell them not to do it. It’s not right but I think they’re just going to have to learn. I’m so afraid he’s never going to snap out of it. He’s never going to have that moment.

Daniel: Can we talk a little more about religion in your family? I know you said you went to Catholic school, and you’re Muslim. 

Kainat: A lot of those kids growing up went to Catholic grade school. They had only been around Catholics. That was their first time meeting a Muslim ever, in real life.

Daniel: What was their reaction?

Kainat: They were super curious. I didn’t know about Catholicism. I just thought it was Christianity. It was surprisingly a good experience. There’s a theology class, and a lot of times when they would talk about issues like abortion, and euthanasia, they would ask, “what does Islam say about it?” And it made me think about my religion. I remember one time in class, it was senior year, and that’s when we started learning about other religions because they wanted to prep them into the real world before going into college. One day we were learning about Islam, and we were watching this video. It was an okay video. There were little offensive things. But it was pretty academic based. It wasn’t too bad. I remember my teacher asking me a question and it was like ask a Muslim day. It was a cool experience.

Daniel: Did you feel like it was hard though because they were making you speak for the whole Muslim population?

Kainat: See that’s what I was nervous about. I would tell them that this is what my family did. This is what I did but like not all of them do that. My school’s name was Guerin. Before I transferred to Guerin we had a Pakistani friend growing up. Her parents put here there since freshmen year. She’s in the same grade as me. Her parents put her there freshmen year; that’s how my parents new about the school. She’s Muslim too, and Pakistani. But the other type of Muslim. There’s two types. There’s Sunni and there’s Shia. So she was Shia. It was interesting because they would say, “well the other Muslim girl said this. And I’m like they’re two different types of Muslim. Shias are actually super oppressed in most countries. A lot of the kids didn’t see that there were two different views and beliefs. I remember one time my professor, it was in front of the class and she said “Christianity is about redemption. Isn’t Islam only about submission?” I’m like no. No it’s not at all. And she’s like, “but I read.” And I’m like “you read but I’m the living experience. I grew up in it.” I don’t feel like it’s a religion where I’m submissive, and I have to give into God. If anything, I’m told to question things. My mom is very religious, but my dad is not at all. His family in Pakistan only go to pray on holidays. My mom’s family, my grandpa hasn’t missed a prayer since he was five. He walks to the mosque every single day, five times a day, which is one of the reasons he refuses to come here because the mosque isn’t open 24/7 every single day here, in Carmel at least. And so, I’m not religious but my mom is and we went through Sunday school.

Daniel: How did you feel about that?

Kainat: The reason I hated it was because our Sunday school was super serious. They gave us finals, midterms, report cards, homework! We had different subjects. This is too much like real school. The white kids, they go to church and they color a picture of Jesus. That’s why I hated it, because of how much work they made us do. I don’t know why they did that but white kids never did that. I don’t know if you’ve heard of stories of your friends when they went to Sunday school. They’d eat a cookie or share this cookie. That’s what Jesus said. It was real school. I didn’t hate it because it was oppressive. I hated it because like I said; we had midterms, finals, report cards. I had to wake up early, every Sunday. We went to two mosques. One in Indianapolis and one in the Carmel, Fishers area. It’s interesting because there’s this mosque, you see all types of Muslims. You see Arabs, black people. You see South Asians like us. You see people that have converted so it was very diverse. Those people didn’t have a lot of places to go to.

Daniel: Okay now we’re going to move onto you and your college experience. Do you identify as a first generation college student? Have your parents attended college?

Kainat: I know my dad didn’t. He wasn’t into school too much. The schooling system there is different. But my mom, she said she went to a real college but she majored in Home Economics? She was the only one in her family I think that achieved the highest degree of education. But I don’t think it transfers over here or anything and it was Home Economics. So I consider myself first generation. But then I also think about my family. Like my cousins have gone to college.

Daniel: Think about your immediate family. 

Kainat: Okay in my immediate family, yes I’m the first one. But one of my uncles also went to college.

Daniel: What do you think is the most difficult part of being a first generation student?

Kainat: I think it’s explaining to my parents. They think you literally only come here to study. But they don’t realize there’s a lot of extracurriculars, and they don’t see the value in extracurriculars. They’re like you’re only here to get an education. So they don’t see the value in it. And it’s hard explaining it to them. They don’t see the value in Interfaith. The would never understand it. They’re like, just focus on yourself. Focus on your grades. They don’t understand why if my friend is in a play, why it’s important to see the play. They don’t see the value in any of that. They like Bonner because they think volunteering is good. I think it’s hard for them because they think college is the exact same as high school in the sense that I would go to school in high school, come back, and do my homework and repeat. I didn’t hang out with people. I didn’t have too many extracurriculars. If I did, my extracurriculars would only be like an hour after class. Nothing long. Because they’ve never gone through the experience. My mom, when she went to college, her dad would drop her off in the morning and pick her up when her classes were done. So she didn’t participate. I think it’s just hard for them to understand for me, that all those things have a value. My mom was talking about all the Mizzou stuff that was going on and she was like, is stuff like that going on in your school? And I’m like there are people protesting, standing up, and I think it’s all very important. And she’s like make sure you stay away from that. You’re here for school. You don’t need to get involved in that. I’m like no because these things affect me because I’m still a person of color. She just wants me to focus on myself and my academics.

Daniel: So what do these conversations sound like with your parents? Do they turn into shouting matches?

Kainat: I don’t blame them. In Pakistan, race wasn’t an issue because everyone is Pakistani there. Those issues weren’t existent for them. There’s no point in thinking about them. The culture there is very collectivist versus here it’s individualist.

Daniel: How are you trying to negotiate that experience?

Kainat: I just don’t tell them. I just don’t see any point in negotiating. I’m just thinking about when I graduate, I’ll have different cords and they’ll ask what does this mean. And I’ll just say I was a part of this. I did this. I was a part of clubs in high school but they didn’t care. They only see grades. They don’t see anything else. Same for internships. They’re like why do you need to do an internship? You have good enough grades? I mentioned the trip to Chicago for Bonner. They didn’t understand. They were like why couldn’t you just do this at home? I don’t know. I want the experience of living in the city in my 20s, while being young. I’ve tried to talk to them, but I don’t think there is a point. They’re very set in their ways. I feel like it’s selfish of me to expect them to change. I think about the situation reversed. For some reason, I may go to Pakistan and raise kids there. And they’re like mom, I don’t care about clubs. I just want to get good grades. Why are you doing this? I just try to give them good grades, and everything else, I don’t need to tell them, unless I have to tell them because they don’t care. They just care that I’m not doing anything crazy, and that I’m getting good grades.

Daniel: Have you seen Master of None

Kainat: I love that show. I watched it all in one day.

Daniel: Do you feel like your conversations with them are similar to that episode with the parents?

Kainat: I cried. That was my favorite episode, the immigration episode.

Daniel: I was eating my lunch bawling out in tears.

Kainat: Wait we talked about this. Did you see so much of yourself in the characters? Like in Aziz Ansari’s character, and his friend? Just like when his dad was on the iPad, and was like, “can you help me?” When my parents do that, I get so angry. Literally, I’m like, all you do is press this button. And I see my brothers do it all the time. It makes me hate myself so much. I feel the exact same way as his character in the sense it’s kind of like he didn’t realize all the things that his parents did for him. I think his parents were richer. His dad was a doctor. But my parents aren’t even that. My dad still works at a gas station. He’s not even rich. That episode, I cried. That’s my favorite episode of the whole thing.

Daniel: I was watching it with a white person, and she said, “this is such bad acting.”

Kainat: It’s because he put his real parents on the show.

Daniel: And it’s also like these are the conversations that we have. We don’t know how to communicate with each other. You try to share your life, but for some reason there’s that divide. It sounds inauthentic. 

Kainat: Yeah. My mom is like what is Interfaith intern. What is interfaith? I’m like pluralism. How to make conversation with other religions. She’s like, how is your biology class?

Daniel: Same. I was with my dad. I called him after my job interview. I called him first, and I told him I have an interview. I’m trying to get into this point in my life where I’m sharing about my life even though they don’t understand. So yeah I told them, I have an interview. And he’s like congratulations. I’m like no I have an interview, I didn’t get the job yet. He was like where is it? I told him Indianapolis. He said what? I said it two more times, and he said, “where is the town?” And I’m like dad, the name of the city is Indianapolis. And he was like just tell me when you get home. I don’t understand. 

Kainat: They don’t. Did you parents get a college education?

Daniel: No.

Kainat: My parents didn’t either. My dad does not like talking in English. His English is not good at all. My mom’s English is better. But even then, she’s like I don’t understand why you’re doing this. What’s a resume? Why do you have a meeting for resumes? I hate myself when I get mad at that. I don’t think I’m coming at it from their view at all. I’m just coming at it from my perspective.

Daniel: Yeah, after my interview, I called him. I told him my interview went well. And he’s like I saw your friend. And I’m like which one? He said, I forgot his name. I was like okay? So I took a guess because he only knows one of my friends, and I said Andy. He was like, oh yeah. He’s with his American girlfriend. He was like he’s short. And I was like yeah dad, he is. And that is his Latina girlfriend. 

Kainat: We should literally recreate that episode with our parents. Like your parents and my parents because we would totally fit in.

Daniel: I feel like my parents would be so awkward around your parents.

Kainat: Oh yeah. My mom is such a talker though. My mom loves talking. She never shuts up. She’ll talk to anyone. My dad is really shy so he wouldn’t talk much. My dad would smile, and be polite the entire time. And my mom doesn’t speak English so she wouldn’t say anything. I also don’t speak Chinese here, so I forget how to make the sounds. Really? You don’t speak Chinese here? Do you miss it?

Daniel: It’s refreshing when I go home. I talk to my mom on the phone in Chinese.

Kainat: When me and my sister first transferred to our Catholic school, I was so uncomfortable there. She fit in much more. She would say stop talking to me in Urdu. Don’t talk to me in our language. And I was like what the heck? That’s so bogus. I speak Urdu all the time now. It bothers me so much how my brothers are assimilating.

Daniel: So how do you see yourself helping your brothers? 

Kainat: I don’t know. I just talk to them honestly. The other day my brother texted me something. I saw this thing on Facebook about this white girl, and her Halloween costume. It was white privileged tears. And she had little tear drops, and it was things that white people complain about all the time. And I sent it to him, and he’s thirteen. But he was like oh yeah, it’s all about white privilege. And I’m like yes. I didn’t know what that word was in middle school at all. And then we started talking about feminism and he didn’t know what that was. And he said what do you think it is, and he was telling me. I think the best thing is just to talk to them about it. I share articles with my brothers. They were watching Master of None. And I’m like what do you think about the second episode. He’s like wow, I never thought about it that way. Isn’t it similar to momma and poppa? I’m like true yeah, immigrants, shocker. I think they always forget that. I think they believe they were born with a foreign accent and grew up here. That’s what I totally think they think sometimes. They need to be constantly reminded. My mom would always tell stories about how she had to share a bedroom with six of her siblings. My brothers will always laugh about it because they don’t believe it. My mom said they only had meat once a week because it’s that expensive. My brothers are like she’s exaggerating. They don’t believe it. I just have to talk to them because I can understand their perspective. But it is hard in college. I’m not there at home with them. My sister isn’t home either and she’s very white washed. Grace, she was in Starbucks, and my sister walked in. And I wasn’t there. Grace was like you’re Hina right? Grace has seen pictures of her on my phone. And Grace is like she’s so much whiter than you. I thought you were white. And then I told Jara, and she said, I thought you were white but then I met your sister.

Daniel: How old is she?

Kainat: She’s 19. She goes to Earlham. Have you heard of it? Oh yeah, we do the Bonner thing there. She’s actually a Bonner there.

Daniel: Do you ever compare your experience to hers?

Kainat: I think she had an easier time assimilating only because she’s lighter than me. My sister is much lighter than me. People always think she’s Latina, instead of Pakistani. I got to the point where I started embracing my culture, and being proud of it. She’s not there. I reached it right before coming to college, wait freshmen year. She never did. She hangs out with people of color, which is so interesting. I never thought she’d do that. But she doesn’t hang out with the brown kids. It breaks my heart because she talks about the international Pakistani kids. I’m like, no. I would hate to come from Pakistan and hate for fellow Pakistanis not to talk to me at all. So that’s what makes me worried about my brothers. She can go to college and not change. She can do the exact same thing. I don’t know. It’s hard. I think my parents, my dad at least, hates to push things. My mom loves to push you towards anything. Since my mom pushes our culture so much, they hate it.

Daniel: What’s one thing you want to change about the world? 

Kainat: Can I ask you this [what’s one thing you would change about the world] question first? It would make me feel better.

Daniel: I’ll tell you what Kuecker told me. I asked Kuecker what’s one thing you want people to know. He said he wants everyone to know the laws of thermodynamics. And basically I was like what does that mean?

Kainat: Isn’t that chemistry, physics and stuff?

Daniel: Yeah. He was essentially saying life, and all of our systems, socioeconomic, political systems are all about order and disorder, which are the laws of thermodynamics. It’s about not having chaos. Our systems are built to create order out of disorder but our systems fail because the system itself always wants to go back to as much chaos as possible. So to sustain an ordered lifestyle, it takes so much energy. We talk about resources, and manpower, being able to feed people, it’s not sustainable. He was saying if we understand those laws, we understand that we won’t be able to sustain ourselves basically. The world is going to end if we don’t sustain ourselves.

Kainat: Yeah, mine isn’t going to be that good.

Daniel: Yeah, he set the bar pretty high. 

Kainat: I feel like anything I say is going to be cliché. It’s okay to be wrong, but I feel like a lot of people can’t accept the fact that they’re wrong. When I went to college, I hated myself for being the way I was before, and being so embarrassed of my culture. And this year, I’m kind of like, it’s fine. I was like that. I need to move on from it. I think it’s okay to feel emotional. I think my parents were very much like have emotions in your private time. Don’t get emotional. Don’t be sensitive anywhere else. Sometimes my friends make fun of me because they’re like you don’t have emotions at all. You don’t cry. My parents raised me to be a robot because my mom is like that. I’ve never seen them emotional. They’re to themselves. I’m like that but this year I haven’t been like that. So this year I have emotions. It’s not like I didn’t have them. But I didn’t feel them. I kept them in the back of my head. This year it overflowed. If someone does have emotions, don’t be so apathetic. Acknowledge people’s emotions. There’s no such thing as being too emotional. I don’t know that’s not changing the world. Well everything that’s going on right now, people keep saying you’re too emotional. Get over yourself. This is the classroom we’re not going to talk about your emotions and stuff. And I’m like you can’t say that. That’s like telling yourself to disconnect as a person and become robots, literally. Emotions are great though. It’s good to cry.



Author: Daniel Chen

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