When I recap my life and think about the challenges I have come across, one in particular stands out. Growing up with traditional Pakistani parents in America has been the most impacting obstacle course of my life. It’s affected me for the longest duration of time, and I am taking this opportunity to share with you what life is like for the girls growing up in conservative Pakistani American households. After explaining the basic demographics of Pakistani Americans, I will highlight difficulties Pakistani American girls face as they relate to education and marriage.
The “Pakistani-American” might be an unfamiliar term to some, but it is by no means a new phenomenon. This group is the second largest South-Asian American ethnic group in the United States. (Demographics, par. 2) It’s population has increased dramatically over the past 13 years, almost doubling in size. It is estimated that anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 Pakistani Americans living in the USA (Demographics, par. 2) By definition, a Pakistani American is someone who was born in Pakistan and migrated to the US. A majority of this group has naturalized and become an American citizen. The group is even larger, considering the offspring the latter group has produced. I do not want to rely greatly on numbers because up to date statistics are not available. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to first generation Pakistanis born in the US as Pakistani Americans. I was born in New York, but because my parents are Pakistani, I have grown up being categorized as a Pakistani-American. I will refer to those born in Pakistan as Pakistanis (regardless of whether they are American citizens by naturalization or not).
“The Pakistani mentality”, that’s a phrase that makes girls like me cringe. The Pakistani mentality, especially as it relates to girls, is a sad and harsh reality. By no means am I professing that everyone has this particular mind set, but I am basing this off of the experiences of those close to me. I Googled these three words to see what I could find, and the first result was a Yahoo Answers post titled “What’s up with Pakistani Mentality?” The person went on saying,
“What’s up with the Pakistani mentality that having a son as a first born is “better” than having a daughter as a first born?… My cousin had a son, and somehow the question came up of whether or not they wanted a son or daughter, and she said “I’m happy I had a son first because it takes all the stress off of me of having a son later on” …And it’s not just a few Pakistanis who think like this. I’ve noticed that it’s the MAJORITY of the Pakistani population!?“ (Cupcakes, par. 1)
This young lady’s concern is evident in her frustrated post, in her need to publicly ask the question, in her effort for guidance and explanation. The trend of females being the “second-class citizen” has extended to Pakistani American households. The misogynist mindset is too deeply rooted and in the upbringing and history of our parents. Almost every couple prays to have at least one son. My parents did, but they had 4 daughters instead. My aunt and uncle did too, they ended up with 6. My parents always said they were happy to have us, but we knew their greatest wish was to have a son. I remember my mom crying for days after getting her ultrasound results back. She was embarrassed to tell anyone that she was having a daughter, yet again. For almost everyone followed their congratulations with, “Allah will give you a son”. These reactions made my mom feel inferior to those women that were able to give birth to boys. Scientifically, the male determines the sex of a fetus, but culturally, it’s the female’s fault. Couples have a lot of pressure on them to produce a male heir, because he is supposed to be the breadwinner, the one that takes care of the parents when they are too old to work, because the concept of 401k doesn’t exist.
Always wondering how much happier my parents would be if I was a son, I grew up with a conflicted state of mind. In school I learned about gender equality and individuality, while at home I struggled for basic freedoms. Rights I would have been granted without a question, had I been a boy. Getting my first job caused a storm at home. My dad swore his girls could not work, but we fought it. After months of awkward tension at home, my parents finally stopped stirring commotion every time I went to work at McDonald’s. We lived in the apartment next to our grandparents, and I always had to make sure I had changed out of my McDonald’s uniform before I stepped in. Since then, we have moved and I have held two other summer internships, all of which my entire extended family is unaware of. We used summer classes as an excuse for my absence from family gatherings during the work day. With time my parents have become accustomed to me and my sister working, but the jobs we get after we graduate will remain a secret until we get married.
Moreover, marriage in Pakistani American society in itself is a huge concern. Historically, Pakistani girls generally tend to get married in their late teens or early twenties. It is believed the older the girl gets, the harder it is for her to find a spouse. Too many parents believe this misconception and arrange their daughters’ hands in marriage at a very young age. Marriage is prioritized over education. Although an education does improve one’s ‘marriage resume’, utmost importance is given to being ‘beautiful’. Long hair, fair skin, a skinny physique, these are the characteristics the most eligible bachelorettes have, along with no previous romantic relationships (Gori, par. 4).
My cousin, agreed to get engaged to a 22 year old when she was 15 years old. Her fiance lives in the United Kingdom and she has never met him. Although my aunt and uncle asked for her consent, is a teenager really able to comprehend what they are agreeing too? In these types of situations, consent is a result of emotional blackmail. Girls are unable to escape the pressure and give into their families wishes. Recently, I heard of a 16 year old girl getting engaged to a man that was 13 years older. This event happened a couple towns away in Connecticut. Although the trend of teenage marriages has decreased, girls are still pressured into getting married at a young age. My whole family has been on my parents back about getting my sister married. They even started the search for potential spouses, all of which were very creepy. It is a struggle balancing our individualist mentalities with our parent’s traditional Pakistani way of thinking.
http://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/pakistani/introduction/ (Demographics, par. 2)