In the world today, identity, culture and citizenship have been the key aspect of widespread political and social controversy on a global scale. The aftermath of Brexit has bought a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, a rise in hate crime and a general feeling of tension between everyone; the elderly and the youth, the wealthy and the poor. There has been a lot of uncertainty and negativity; watching the news makes me almost believe a nuclear war is imminent. Throughout all of this, I believe it’s important to celebrate our diversity, especially the diversity within our own university. So with that, for next year, I want to introduce a new regular section within the Liberation section, a chance for you to share your “Liberation” story. I’ll get the ball rolling for you.
I was born in Pakistan in 1997, to a young, ambitious couple, in the heart of the vibrant capital Islamabad. Both my parents had just completed a degree in Economics, were just starting to establish their careers, and had started new jobs in Karachi, the biggest port city in Pakistan. After a few weeks, we moved to Karachi and spent the first three years of my life there. Within the first year, my mother had stopped working to look after me; finding a reliable nanny in Karachi was not easy. When I was three, my mother told me I was going to have a little brother. I was beyond excited. Once he was born, my father had been offered a job in Bahrain, and so we moved.
Bahrain was the first time I met people different to me. Surprisingly, it’s a very vivid memory for me, despite the fact the I was only four years old. I learnt to speak English, which I remember being tough. Bahrain was a developing cultural hub during the time we lived there, and as a result, there was an incredible amount of diversity at my school. My friends were from all over the world; Bahrain, Italy, Hungary, London, India, Indonesia, South Africa. We annually celebrated this on World Day, where everyone would dress up in their national clothing and bring in some food from their country for everyone to try. From a young age I knew that sushi was not for me.
After Bahrain, the next place we lived for a significant amount of time was Karachi. We moved there when I was 8. The next five years were difficult for me, I initially struggled to find my place in a culture that I had forgotten. However, over time, I learned to love Karachi. The food, the late-night drives, beautiful beaches; it all grew on me. Two years after the move, my sister was born, and our family was complete. As it got close to four years of us being there, I was getting restless, and was ready for change. My mother felt it too; she grew up in an Airforce family, and moved every year to somewhere new, so everything was also getting monotonous for her as it was for me. With the ever worsening situation in Karachi, caused by politically motivated violence, and gang criminal activity, we knew a move was impending.
Our prayers were answered when my father was offered a position in CitiBank In London, and we consequently moved to Surrey in January 2011. I didn’t really expect a culture shock, as I had been part of the British schooling system all my life. However, no amount of time spent watching the Bridget Jones films, or all the British novels and books I had read could have prepared me for the reality check that hit me. The roads weren’t cobbled and picturesque, and bright, standard industry street lights replaced the Victorian oil lamps that I had always pictured when I thought of Britain. The biggest shock was the border control force we were greeted with upon landing at Heathrow. That was the first time I felt scrutinized for my ethnicity; I could feel my parents were as tense as I was throughout the whole process. They were tense for another 6 years, until all the jumping through hoops finally paid off and we became citizens last year.
At first, I even struggled with the language at first; English slang and the accents confused me – smile and nod is what got me through those early days at my new school, which was immensely awkward when it was a question being asked, and not a statement being said. I eventually adjusted. It was here where I learnt to love myself, accept myself; I finally have an understanding of my own sexuality, and that in itself was a massive step forward. Before moving here, I didn’t even know there were people like me out there. I struggled for many to years to completely fit in; being from a Muslim family meant that I had certain rules and values to uphold myself to. It’s something I did by choice mostly, out of respect for my parents, and everything they have done for me; following a few rules wasn’t so bad. Coming to university allowed me to really find out where I fit in, and figure out who I am and what I believe in.
Looking back now at where I started, and the person I am today, I truly believe I owe it all to the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have. Trying to understand what culture I really belong to has been struggle for me, from a very young age. This was similar for my parents, my wonderful mother especially. She struggled with being a stay at home mother, and found it difficult to settle down. She’s now a teacher in training, and her journey to adapting her beliefs, has been slower, but as difficult as my own, if not more. While some people have firm roots in one place, in one culture, I don’t. My home isn’t just in Pakistan anymore; I have some sense of home in Islamabad, Karachi, Bahrain, Surrey and now Swansea. These cultures and beliefs that come along with them, are where my own ideals and values come from, and that is okay; It’s okay to have a bit of everything. I am proudly Pakistani British, and my love for the UK is endless. My time here has had its ups and downs, as life often does, but I am eternally grateful to have moved here, and been accepted in the way I have been.
I’m not a fan of writing about myself, but here you go! I really think it’s important that we do everything we can to understand and accept each other, especially in times where there is tension within communities. The ideals and morals we decide to have will not just impact us, but the generations to follow. Take our current global political climate; a lot of the people who have the most power and influence in the world today are the greatest preachers of hate, violence and inequality. We have the power to change that through changing our own understanding and perceptions of people different to us within our society. I encourage people reading this, who have similar stories, or vastly different stories to write a bit and send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Zoya Chishti