03. July 2017 · 1 comment · Categories: Memories

As a white skinned, blonde haired boy growing up in Pakistan I always wanted to be American. Most of the people I was around were Pakistani, naturally, while my friends at school and the children of my parents’ coworkers were British, Scottish, Korean, Australian, Kiwi, Canadian, and American. Being American in Pakistan seemed to mean something, give me some kind of identity. It was the opposite during the few widely-spaced years we were actually in America. I didn’t understand what kind of clothes to wear, what kind of haircut to have, how to say certain words correctly. While we were in America I wanted to be Pakistani; looking back I’m not sure I knew exactly what that meant, but I knew I wanted to have some kind of concrete identity.

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Holding a snake at a beach near Karachi, in the early 1990’s. The mongoose, which would fight a snake for a small fee, is not pictured.

One of the most American things we got to do in Pakistan was go to the American Embassy for the Fourth of July. We would go occasionally to swim in the pool and eat at the American Club (about the only place to get American food in those days). But on the Fourth of July we got to go for a huge party, with hot dogs and hamburgers, lots of people, and a spectacular fireworks show set against the backdrop of the Margalla Hills at the northern edge of Islamabad. I have vague, ephemeral memories of those parties, and of the intense feelings of patriotism I experienced celebrating my country in a different country.

They stopped doing as big a party at some point. Security concerns were a major part of it, I would imagine. I’m not sure what they do at the Embassy these days. Since I’ve been living in America I’ve been to numerous fireworks shows on the Fourth, and appreciate the spectacle. I’ve never felt the same swelling of patriotism, though, the same pride in being American that is somehow magnified by being not in America. In recent years, as I’ve learned more about the checkered history of the United States, and particularly this year with the global embarrassment that we’ve elected, such a feeling is even more difficult to experience. I am still incredibly proud of what America is and can be, the privileges we have living here, the freedom to write or say just about whatever I want. I can move to Italy or France or Korean and live for decades and never be Italian, or French, or Korean. But anyone (assuming the travel ban is fully lifted by the Supreme Court this fall) can move to America, and with hard work and diligence become an American. Witnessing a naturalization ceremony in Indianapolis a few years back is the closest I’ve come to rekindling the same feelings I had watching fireworks in Islamabad.

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Looking out at our neighbors in Rawalpindi, Pakistan in the early 1990’s.

Tomorrow we will celebrate the Fourth of July with my family. We’ll eat American food, enjoy each others’ company, and play cricket, which has been a family tradition for the past several years. It’s a small way of retaining the past we’ve shared while celebrating the diversity that America used to, and should continue to, embrace and embolden.

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School children playing cricket with a board as a wicket in a small village in KPK, Pakistan, 2016.

 

1 Comment

  1. Susanna Rasmussen Brown

    Well done, Tim. You can catch our son Tim’s blog analyzing similar feelings from his perspective as a US FSO on my news feed. Despite being a generation ahead of you, I feel the same way you have described. I felt most patriotic in the US embassy in Islamabad. It is really hard to feel the same way when living with the reality of daily American life, and the news we hear daily now. Anyway, have a wonderful day tomorrow, and say hello to all those Irwins and Feldmans you will be with!!

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