“Our house feels big and empty. It sits behind an electric iron gate and it sometimes seems as if we are in what we in Pakistan call a sub-jail, a kind of luxury house arrest. At the back there is a large garden with lots of trees and a green lawn for me and my brothers to play cricket on. But there are no rooftops to play on, no children fighting with kites in the streets, no neighbors coming in to borrow a plate of rice or for us to ask for three tomatoes. We are just a wall’s distance from the next house, but it feels like miles away… I know my mother is lonely. She was very sociable—all the women of the neighborhood used to gather in the afternoons on our back porch, and women who worked in other houses came to rest. Now she is always on the phone to everyone back home. It’s hard for her here as she does not speak any English. Our house has all of these facilities, but when she arrived they were all mysteries to her and someone had to show us how to use the oven, washing machine, and the TV.” (I Am Malala, 303-305)
I recently had the opportunity to see Malala Yousafzai speak at the Target Center. She is one of my biggest heroes (I even used a quote of hers for my senior quote) so I was so excited to hear her speak. Her story and accomplishments are absolutely incredible, and the fact that she is only a few months younger than me is astounding. Her words and wisdom gave me chills. To even be in the same room as her, let alone hear her speak, was truly an honor and an experience I’ll never forget.
Anyways, last week I read I Am Malala, her autobiography, to prepare for her event so I would have a deeper knowledge about her story and background. The exert above, taken from the Epilogue, really stuck out to me. Malala lived in Pakistan for the first fifteen years of her life, and after she was shot by the Taliban she was transported to Birmingham, England for better care. She still lives there today, as it is unsafe to return to Pakistan because of the stances she has taken in favor of girls getting an education. This passage stuck out to me because my job is telling the Swedish immigrant story, as well as the immigrant story in general. Most Swedes came to America voluntarily, as they were searching for a better and more successful life. Malala’s story really shocked me because I was finally reading a first-hand account of an immigrant who did not want to leave her country. She loved Pakistan but she had to leave for her safety and for better medical care. At the event, as well as in her book, she stressed that she longs to return to Pakistan. She still skypes her friends there to stay up-to-date with what is going on in their lives. She said her ultimate goal is to return home one day and become a politician. It was really shocking to hear an immigrant account that counters the stories I tell of people finding hope in their immigration.
I was discussing this with Lynne Moratzka, and she pointed out that not all immigrants who came to America came voluntarily either. She pointed out that African Americans did not choose to immigrate over; they were forced to. While I had learned this in history class, I feel like I didn’t truly understand this concept until I read Malala’s book. I feel like Malala’s perspective on her immigration can also be applied to many other immigrants, especially those today who are coming from areas of war, for example immigrants from Syria. They often do not chose to come here, they are forced out due to war and violence. A big part of my job is discussing why immigrants wanted to come to the United States for a better life, but reading Malala’s book and hearing her speech has made me realize that this is not always the case, which is making me more open-minded towards other people’s immigration experiences.
Something else that I noticed from this passage relates to the universal experiences immigrants have, which is something we discuss during tours. We try and make our tours about the immigrant experience in general, but with a Swedish twist. Some of the universal experiences we discuss are not knowing the language, having your children adapt to the culture more quickly than you, and trying to decide which aspects of your culture to keep and which aspects to let go of as you adapt to living in a new country. The Epilogue of Malala’s book about her experiences in Birmingham really attests to these universal experiences. She talks about her mom not knowing the language and feeling lonely, especially since they used to have neighbors and family at their house all the time in Pakistan. She discusses how her brothers love playing with their Xbox and other video game consoles, as they quickly adapt to the culture of the new country they are in, whereas her mother struggles to adapt. They miss the atmosphere and the culture of their home in Pakistan as they are forced to acclimate to this new place and lifestyle. I feel like reading Malala’s story attests to these universal experiences immigrants have, which has made me more knowledgeable about the topic.
Overall, Malala’s story has made me so much more open-minded about immigrant experiences. I have learned that people immigrate for so many different reasons. I have also gained a deeper understanding about universal immigrant experiences, as I have now been able to apply them to immigrants from Europe and the Middle East. I feel like I have grown as a person, as I am more understanding towards different immigration experiences and stories.