Amazing Kids! Magazine

Curry & Pasta – a Beautiful Blend of America and Pakistan

By Mehak Anwar, age 16, Washington

At first, I felt very confused. Everyone in my first grade class had light eyes and blonde hair, except for me. In December, they embellished their homes with bright lights and erected giant trees which would be decorated with lustrous glass ornaments and trinkets, but I didn’t. They would go to each other’s houses for play dates and sleepovers, but I had never slept anywhere other than my own bed.

Learning to balance the Pakistani lifestyle at home, with the American culture I was exposed to at school was no easy feat. My confusion about my classmates’ bright blonde hair color and present-filled celebrations was only the beginning. Since my parents were Muslims, religion was a large part of my upbringing. Because Islam suggests that women don’t show too much skin, I was never allowed to wear shorts or tank-tops in the summer, even when it was boiling hot. I wanted to fit in and be like my friends, so sometimes I felt resentful towards my culture and religion and wished that I had just been born American. Another cultural clash had to do with food. While typical American foods include pasta, burgers, and seafood, most Pakistani food includes complex spices, sauces, and meats that aren’t commonly seen in American cooking, like goat and lamb. Every time I had a friend over he or she would make a negative comment about how the food looked “weird” or “gross”. I was hurt and embarrassed. Why couldn’t we just be normal and have hotdogs and spaghetti like everyone else?

But when I was in 6th grade, everything changed. One night, my mom took me to a dinner party that was hosted by one of her close Pakistani friends. Even though I wanted to wear jeans and a sweater, my mom made me dress in traditional Pakistani clothing called Shalwar Kameez. When we got to the party I realized everyone was wearing shalwar kameez of various designs, fabrics, and colors. I had never seen so much variety of Pakistani clothing in my life, and was fascinated at the glittering beads and delicate fibers of the clothing. When dinner was served, I tried new food that I had never before even seen in my life. Some of the food was so good that not even my favorite kind of burger could beat the taste. After dinner I started a conversation with a girl who spoke no English—we talked in Urdu, which is my first language and the national language of Pakistan. We had a great conversation that led to such a strong bond, that even 5 years later we’re best friends.

That night I realized how very fortunate I was to be a part of two cultures. If I had ignored my Pakistani heritage, I would have never been able to experience new fashions, try a variety of interesting food, or communicate thoroughly enough to be able to make a new friend. Shortly after this dinner party my outlook on my lifestyle changed. Just because I didn’t celebrate Christmas or have light skin didn’t mean I wasn’t American, and just because I spoke English and wore American clothes to school didn’t mean I wasn’t Pakistani. I had the best of both worlds—I could provide a more global perspective to my American peers, and I could explain American tradition to my Pakistani friends that didn’t fully understand it. But best of all I could eat my favorite kind of American pasta in the afternoon, but still come home to my favorite kind of Pakistani curry in the evening.