“What are you?
Some kind of Middle Eastern?
…or just a really tan white girl?”
While I have always been amused by my natural ability to confuse others with my ethnicity, racial ambiguity has sparked many questions in my life. As a half-Irish, half-Pakistani first generation American I often ask myself the same question:
“What am I?”
You’re too tan to be white, but are you ethnic enough to be colored? You don’t wear a hijab to cover your hair, so do you really consider yourself a Muslim? Then again, how many traditional Irish Catholic girls read the entire Quran in Arabic at 9 years old?
No, I don’t look Pakistani nor do I look Irish, but that doesn’t mean I don’t identify with my cultural heritage. I grew up dancing along to Bollywood films and waiting up for Santa every Christmas. I have my own spiritual relationship with God, and I don’t feel the need to explain to you how I can practice both Islam and Catholicism. I look at my family and see loving people- who may not always understand me- but who have an unyielding appreciation and acceptance of others.
I think my generation is filled with many others like me: multicultural millennials. We have the opportunity to shape our own culture and embrace our identities by creating social norms for ourselves. My Irish side of the family has been normalized into our society, while the Pakistani side faces more obstacles.
An effective way to change these ideas is by impacting entertainment. A sitcom about a loving, wholesome, American-Muslim family could do wonders for the perception of the Islamic community. I have yet to see a Muslim show on television that depicts a positive, progressive picture while maintaining our cultural integrity. Why? Many of us are afraid to explore the industry. I was taught that if you weren’t going to become a doctor or a lawyer you were not going to be successful.
“You need to help people” is what I have always been told. What they really meant was: “You need to help people- and make good money doing it”.
You can imagine that when I announced I was pursuing a career in Hollywood my family wasn’t exactly thrilled. I still want to help people, and maybe one day I’ll make the big bucks like a doctor, but I want to represent my community by producing new content with diverse characters from multi-ethnic backgrounds and universal stories.
But representation goes so far beyond sticking an actor of color on the screen to meet a diversity quota. I think we all want to see real people on our TVs. I want to see my aunts and uncles, progressive Muslims who love rap music and enjoy the latest blockbuster just as much as their black neighbors. I want to see my brother and sister, children of multicultural heritage who can laugh about grandpa falling asleep on the couch again, the same way our Irish cousins do with their grandfather.
So I stopped asking myself the question: “What am I?” and began to focus on: “What will I become?”
I’ll keep you posted.