Last night, I called my friend Marie to catch up. She was on a blind date at this bar, and she described to me how white it was. “Dude the fucking Killers are playing right now, literally my white senses are going off and some dude at the next table is requesting a fucking Coldplay song AND this guy I’m with is lowkey racist, but I could give less of a fuck at this point since I dated James.”
“Damn, that’s pretty fucking white,” I commented.
“Dude, you have no idea,” she wheezed, laughing her ass off as she sipped more of whatever got her trashed enough for this date. “Bruh, I’m getting hit on by randos, I’m too drunk for this shit. But anyway, what’s up?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed. I was feeling kind of bothered, and I needed to hear the truth from someone. And if anyone was going to tell the truth, it would be Marie’s drunk ass. So I went for it.
“I feel like people around me are trying to persuade me to fit into one culture. Like in the past I felt that people at least attempted to control me at times by trying to mold me into a more ‘Muslim’ image or by white-washing me, and I’m not like that…I understand it’s to impress either older, more traditional people or younger people who shit on others because they think they’re cool. I know I have tattoos and I’m kind of out there, but I have my shit together dude. I’m more confident, I’m stronger, I know what I want. I don’t want to be part of one singular culture because I was raised to be part of both…A handful of my Pakistani friends told me they were dating brown guys and one of them told me about how her man flipped a shit because she posted a sleeveless pic, and I told that girl about how white boys similarly coerced me to be more Americanized because he thought my culture was ‘funny.'”
“Saima,” said Marie. “You’re so good at balancing your Pakistani culture and your American culture. You do it very meticulously, it shows in your social media. You don’t hide yourself. You’re not just one identity, you encompass elements from all kinds, which makes you adaptable. And you appreciate the world and see the beauty in it, and that’s what makes people see the beauty in you.”
I was sooooooo gassed, yo.
But I also began appreciating my personality more this week because of this type of encouragement. The same day, my friend Maddy texted me in the morning, telling me that she feels blessed that she saw me go from my lowest point to my highest point.
“u a princess, u deserve amazing tings. I’m also glad I got to be there for you.”
I love texts like that because they acknowledge my progress, and I’m happy about myself because of that. And I’m grateful for those who never lost faith in me. People like Maddy, like Aleena, like Mariposa and others who constantly tell me that I’m real and unapologetic, and how that’s so rare.
The day before, my friend Linda sent the longest, most beautiful text I’d ever read. It hit my heart. She’s one of the people who’s closest to my heart. Sometimes she and I fight like sisters, and we were talking about that. “We never bring each other down,” she expressed. “That’s never our goal. We never want to hurt each other. We love each other too much for that. Actually, no true love exists without conflict. And I do appreciate your existence because it is so very unique and I know no one on this earth like you, Saima. No one. And what I can tell you and how I can feel around you, it’s just…I can’t feel that way with anyone else because no one else is you and when it comes to you, who you are as a person matters a lot. Because you are so you. And a lot of people aren’t them.”
I have a vibe that makes everyone comfortable. Mashallah, I have a vibe that makes everyone feel like they can come to me. Like I’m part of your family.
I can be white and civil, black and bold, Hispanic and vivid, brown and dazzling, yellow and balanced, red and ignited.
I can have volume and grit in my voice like a thousand storms, and I can placate it to a sensual coolness that feels like clouds drifting through your ears.
I’ve been shaped largely by my family, and by my religion as well. I’ve been known to be generous, actually quite frivolous in the way I give to others. I’ve given money, time, and importance to many who didn’t appreciate it, and I’ve been taught lessons from literature, including scriptural teachings from the Bible and from the Qur’an about how to live life in the most balanced way that fulfills your spirit, while establishing my own boundaries. I know that being who you are is a scary thing to do because it’s so hard to completely accept yourself, especially accepting past mistakes.
People judge my old pictures a lot on my social media, which doesn’t really bother me because we were all awkward at one point. There’s no point in hiding it. Also, pictures are markers for progression. I like noticing how I’ve changed. It gives me perspective and helps me take care of myself more since I can have my past as a visual of when I was unsure of myself versus now. When I was unsure of myself, I completely rejected the traditions and values that I grew up with at home because I wanted to adjust to the largely white-influenced environment around me. I was extreme with everything I did because I didn’t know what my breaking point was. I needed to find it, however. Eventually, I learned to see the beauty in my own culture by ridding myself of the toxic, xenophobic mindset that has poisoned society.
People say that I love too much sometimes. It’s not love’s fault though. People who are afraid of love are simply afraid of loving themselves. When people tell me that I love too much, it’s because their hands weren’t open enough to carry it. Love makes me be a healthier, more positive influence for others, regardless of what their ethnic background because I took the time for myself to come to a common ground. I continuously attempt to blend elements strongly from my two cultures while acknowledging the diverseness around me. Because universality exists in diversity, which is something that my brother’s beloved old professor M. Perulli taught me, and it’s something that I’ve learned through travel as well. We may look different outside, but inside we have the same template. We all ideally strive to be the best we can, even if we are at a low point. We try to function as a community in the best way we can. We all try to establish criteria for how to behave. Many cultures are incredibly family-oriented as well. We are molded by our beliefs, but we are never fully cemented in them unless we each equally find a sense of fulfillment from them.
However, people don’t take the time to truly understand others. People need to realize that we learn in different ways. That largely shapes our experiences. Two people can grow up in adjacent houses, but they could experience two totally disparate WORLDS based on what traditions and cultural values are in their homes. Linda and I both grew up with strict parents. Alhamdullilah, her parents were always very encouraging influences and were there for her throughout her childhood. They never gave up on her, whereas I had many conflicting issues with my father that formed a canyon between us, as I continuously fell below to seek comfort in boys that I thought would love me and lashed out at those who didn’t. When people don’t take the time to truly understand each other, that’s when judgements form and it’s entirely unfair to treat each other that way. People point fingers and say, “why does she do x, y, and z?” But they don’t take the time to find the answer. Thereby, they stagnate, and fail to achieve an understanding about themselves.
I choose to balance my cultures ultimately through kindness. I keep my heart open, and I give to those who are willing to come in and treat my heart, my home, with respect and give me something that I can respect and love with all my heart. We all give something to each other, we never seek to just take. We are always learning from each other and growing with each other. We fight, but we never try to put each other in place because we don’t control each other. We give each other space, we give each other love, we give each other realness. And that’s how we keep each other balanced.