Immigration and Culture Shock

Friday, September 4, 2020


There are so many demands set out before us which brings the burden of various responsibilities on our shoulders. Living in North America, especially in the United States, means being constantly entangled in a neverending rat race in order to provide a better future for our children. This is exactly the culture shock that many families go through when they immigrate to the Promise land brimming with hope. Even though some are prepared, there is really no way to experience that feeling of stepping into a brand new country and all your education and experience is diminished so much that you are practically starting all over again. There are very rare circumstances or specific countries where this is not the case but if you are arriving from Pakistan, your past means nothing.  

    When she first arrived in Canada, my mother would have been dressed in traditional attire most likely a "shalwar kameez" with a long "chadar" or throw covering her body and I would have been wearing a dress with pantyhose. Around her, she would observe a sea of varied faces and dressing styles and smells that would have overwhelmed her senses and mind. The new sights and sounds would blur in the midst of the exhaustion of a long flight and travel time so that her mind would become numb from the novelty of everything. But there would be that glimmer of hope amidst the challenge and fear of leaving her whole world behind several thousand miles away. 

    The challenges would not end within the first week, month, or even year because raising kids in a new country presents with challenges every single day which are seemingly ongoing forever. There is a constant battle to teach the traditions of the previous country and instill the values of an eternal religion. Sometimes, there is an entanglement of religion and culture that contradicts what the new surroundings teach which confuses both the children and the parents. 

    My mother did not know how to discuss taboo topics openly and found it brazen the way everything would be discussed in a normal manner around her. This challenge would be the same for my father as he navigated the rules of the Western world and fought to protect his home values. The definition of freedom and growth means different things based on gender in the Eastern world and having this view challenged here would be a rude awakening.

    My parents strongly insisted that we must speak Urdu and Punjabi at home so that we retain fluency in those languages not only to be able to communicate with relatives back home but also to maintain a stamp of the identity of where we came from. So I was encumbered with learning Urdu, Punjabi, and traditional Arabic before I stepped foot into junior kindergarten at the age of 4. Although I really appreciate my multilingual ability now and even grew a fondness for learning new languages, at the age of three I was quite overwhelmed and fought hard against this. However, now I understand the beauty of knowing a language that is not English and the versatility of different kinds of words I have learned to talk about and describe my world. Sometimes the English language can even be limited in this respect.

    There are many changes that are required in order to integrate into a different society and as an adult, I understand the importance of maintaining one's unique identity and background. Nevertheless, this provides a good opportunity to leave behind the parts of the culture that are not worth bringing over and make that positive change in life. Unfortunately, first-generation immigrants try to hold on to every last morsel that defined their culture without differentiating the negative aspects and those ideologies continue to be taught to the future generations. 

    As I keep reiterating, change can be good despite how difficult it might seem to embrace it. People should never be caught living in a static world that perpetuates any form of suffering into the present and future. Stepping into a new world is the best excuse to lay such things to rest. So let's begin.

Until Next Time,

Photo by Nazim Laghari on Unsplash

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