Which Way Should I Go?
By Amaar Asif
An immigrant’s intertwined crises of determining who we are and why we are
You are a Pakistani immigrant who has fled the nation and you have just gotten off the plane in New York. You know no one and you are with no one. You trail along the Hudson River for days, sleeping along it, just walking, hoping it can lead you to some opportunity in this promised land. Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. One day, a woman stops to ask if you need a job. You have no idea who this woman is, and you never see her again, but you answer yes. You get a card, leading you to become a gas station employee in the city, and you start from scratch. You work for years, slowly bringing your family over from your home in Pakistan, and live the “American Dream.” It’s a great story that, with a stroke of luck, creates a great ending.
You finally own the station, and one day as you are repairing a car, the machinery malfunctions and the car falls on top of your chest. You pass out, waking up weeks later in a hospital. You remember bits and pieces, but you realize you have no sensation from the waist down. You are paralyzed for the rest of your life.
This is the story of Muhammad Abrar Khan, my grandfather. He is who I consider to be my root. My identity is defined by what I want it to be, but my roots come from a simple gas station man who now is one of the most important people in my life.
Many Americans consider themselves the children of immigrants. When asked where we are from, we immediately face an identity crisis. Should I answer that I am American, considering that I was born and raised in the United States? Or should I lean toward saying I am from Pakistan, the nation of my parents and their parents, but a place I have rarely been to? An identity crisis plagues thousands upon thousands of people unable to answer the simple question “Where are you from?” It’s a simple question that has a powerful answer. I personally take the safe route and give the longest answer: I am a Pakistani Muslim-American.
We don’t often dwell on how our roots affect the direction of our lives and how we are perceived, but when we do, we ponder over the routes our ancestors took to discover answers in our own lives. Although identity can change, the roots that we are born with stay with us as we go on to forge our own paths and dreams. Never would my family of rice farmers in Pakistan imagine their descendent to be a biology major at Syracuse University in the United States. Regardless of what our identity is, it does not stop us from pursuing what we desire to be. Aspiring to dreams is the one frontier that is untouched and forever changing.
This identity crisis changes later in life to become the fundamental question everyone struggles to answer in life: What is my purpose? We sometimes try to answer this question by going back to determining what our identity is and many a time, we stop there. However, I am a firm believer in the philosophy that we determine our own purposes. Being in college is an eternal struggle because we are bombarded by different paths that lead to infinite opportunities in life. Every student at Syracuse can attest to that. But I believe that is my identity crisis is the same as my struggle to find my purpose. The crisis is the journey to determine where my roots lead to and what I am meant to do.
I hope to become a doctor living the dream of treating the impoverished around the world and trying to find a cure to those afflicted with paralysis. My roots led me here, but that isn’t my whole story. Our roots can somewhat tell us a story, but regardless of where they lead to, we choose the ending. That is the adventure of life.
If I were to say that struggle always leads to success, I would be lying. People fall along the way, give up and move on from their dreams. Those are the people that are not often spoken about. The success stories are ones that have past failures behind them: an identity crisis is what I call it.
Our roots all went through some tough times. However, it can be said that many of us have made it far, and we aspire to go farther. We may never be able to answer the question of what is our purpose, but we sure can get close to that answer. Aspire to be something that your roots would be proud of. I look back and see the mountains I have climbed, and then I look forward to see the dreams I am trying to reach. I can choose to stop, but that would just mean that the impact of the crisis won. We all have our roots, but it's up to us in the end if we choose to aspire to the dreams that we are trying to reach.
Amaar Asif is a freshman studying biology at Syracuse University.