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Living in the USA

Nasim Hassan - Hockessin, DE. USA


May, 2001
I get up in the morning early at 6:30 AM and sun is already out from the East. This is a bright day in May. My next door neighbor is ready to go to work and we exchange greetings whenever we see each other. I have been living in this house for more than ten years. I have never met socially with my neighbors. The neighbors in the street have changed over the years. The average stay in this street has been about five years. Americans do not develop any attachments to a house or people. For them, it is very easy to pack up and leave without looking back. There is a big business in real estate and moving. A number of houses are on the market on a year round basis. The people like to move even in the same state buying bigger houses and sometimes buying smaller houses after retirement. The state of Delaware is small and it is now getting crowded. The Muslims were the first one to build an Islamic center with a Sunday Islamic school about ten years ago. The Indians have recently built a temple although their population is more than Muslims in this area. However, Indian community has been culturally very active. They were first in opening grocery stores and a restaurant. The Indian community is also looking outwards while Muslims look inwards. By this I mean, the Indian community is politically more active and also keen to develop ties with the local population. Next come the Pakistani Americans who closely follow Indians. By and large Indian and Pakistanis have very good relations in this state. Surprisingly, most of Pakistanis own small businesses in this State. A significant number of people from Afghanistan are also here. Afghans generally keep to themselves. Iranians are the most modern people. They are very hard to recognize as they have intermixed with the local population. The Pakistani Americans in this area meet within small groups. Some people are very religious and no one can detect any trace of change in their behavior or outlook. On the other hand there are Pakistanis who have a full bar in their homes. In between these two extremes there is a large group in the middle. This group tries to retain eastern values while adjusting to the local conditions.
Every community in the USA has developed its own characteristics. The Pakistanis in New York are quite different as compared to their countrymen in the Delaware valley. For example, there is local People Party and Muslim League in New York. Nothing like this exists in small towns across USA. This largely depends upon first group of immigrants. The Pakistanis in Washington DC area are on a completely different track. The existence of Pakistan Embassy, World Bank and other institutions has attracted people involved in embassies and government institutions. Similarly in small towns where immigrants are very few, the Pakistanis have developed relations with the local American population. In all big cities of the USA such as Chicago, Houston, Los Angles and New York there is absolutely no need to meet or socialize with local American people. In certain areas of New York, even the knowledge of English language is not required. The local businesses conduct their daily transactions in Pakistani languages. Everything from Pakistani such as clothing, groceries, PTV plays, films, books, magazines and newspapers are easily available. The long- term impact of such an inward looking culture is not very clear. It is absolutely necessary to learn English to survive in the main stream America. The people who are not educated become a permanent underclass in this society. The phenomenon is apparent in certain enclaves in all major US cities. This is a human nature and other immigrant communities have started in this fashion. Even now every major city has a China Town. In a China Town, everything from China is available. Gradually the second generation of immigrants has moved on to better areas. The trend also maybe applicable to Pakistani population.
The USA is a very dynamic country. The people are always on the move. This impacts the lives of old people. The problem has started to manifest in Indian and Pakistani communities. I personally know a number of people who have their children scattered all across America. A son lives on the West Coast and the daughter is married somewhere in the Mid West. In the old age, these people need care and company. The first generation Pakistani immigrants have always ridiculed the American old age homes. Now some of them have started to realize that Pakistanis are no different than other communities. In fact Pakistanis and Indians are in a worst situation. They are getting old in a different culture and there are no institutions where they can get any company. The Americans have a number of organizations where retired people can go to spend time together. There are War Veteran, Church and countless other organizations where American can get together and enjoy the free time. On the contrary, retired South Asians wait for son and daughter in law to come home from work.
The Islamic centers and Mosques were supposed to provide such a forum. My observation shows that the expectations have been misplaced. The Mosques in the USA are not located in every neighborhood. Some people live close to these centers while a majority live miles away. The Islamic centers somehow do not encourage social interaction. Many times, I have heard heads of these centers admonishing people to refrain from socialization. They preach that a Mosque is for prayers and certain decorum and silence should be maintained. They also preach that no discussion is allowable in the Mosque. The South Asian community somehow loves to talk. So far there is no place, where the people can come, talk, play, read, listen to music and watch movies. Perhaps all of these are not considered as Islamic activities. These activities play an important role in bringing the people together so that they can learn about other people and help fellow Indians or Pakistanis if required. Due to the absence of such forums, I have observed that when old people are sick, hardly anyone knows. The puritanical Islam as practiced in Mosques although not against serving fellow human beings some how does not help.
Now there is an Internet. This is great hope for the new generation. I believe that this will emerge as communication tools for the retired people as well. Although it is a not a substitute for a personal contact, it can bring the people together. I hope that South Asian community in the land of opportunity starts thinking about building institutions where people can meet regardless of age.
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