My heart pounds together with the beat of American National Anthem. At school and work events when we rise for Pledge of Allegiance I say it with goosebumps all over my body. Yes I love this country, born on the 4th of July for its values, for its freedom, and for its people.
When I tell this to typical Americans some are amused while the others try to comfort me saying that I am not required to love the country; as if I am making an effort to love it. Little do they know that love is effortless and boundless. It can’t be forced upon people. It sprouts and stems out of care and genuine concern. Yes this country has shown me care, concern, appreciation, respect and yes the right answer “All of the Above”. Be it the streets of Jamaica, New York which are known to be notorious or its Subways trains which are bound to scare a new comer I vouch for their kindness and large heartedness. People are helpful and too busy to bother others.
So what do I love about this country? First the culture of open praise and acknowledgement. In the first work Christmas party when I introduced my husband to the company Vice President, the VP said “Thanks for sharing her with us. We really appreciate it.” That was a pleasant surprise for someone coming from a Desi culture where praise is usually restrained. In fact people get suspicious if you praise them openly thinking that you either need a favor or would badmouth them behind their back. Even now when I have completely adopted to his open praise culture and praise a Pakistani friend or relative I see their guards go up and feel a bit frustrated of possibly being misunderstood.
I love the casual spontaneity of US culture. You can start a conversation with the person standing next to you in a grocery store payment line and get a chuckle or two out of it. The cab driver, the hair stylist, the store cashier everyone is ready with a big smile and a small talk nudged with compliments. The American free spirit and strong persona totally resonates with me. I enjoy equal rights at work. No one dare to disrespect a woman or pass a casual double meaning remark. Not that people are all sincere all the time but its the law and its regard that keep them at bay and behaving. Recently Kohl’s store manager lost his top job after being reported harassing a female coworker. My daughter and I walk freely and without fear in America, even past midnight if needed.
There are many other attributes that make this country great and we will keep discussing them in future columns. For now, in the context of 4th of July lets just talk about its gear and paraphernalia. The Independence Day products come in all shapes and sizes. People not only wear flag printed T-shirts but shorts, lingrea, and even flip-flops, and sandals. In Pakistan you might get shot by patriots for insulting the flag by wearing it as chappals but here people flaunt their love by wearing flag print bikinis and sandals. There is nothing good or bad about either one. In an effort to build bridges I am just presenting two very different sides so they understand each other better. Something that is very offending to Pakistanis is not important at all to Americans and vice versa.
And how can one talk about Independence Day and not mention the longstanding tradition of fireworks. Fireworks or Aatishbazi to me is symbolic to the beauty and wonders of this amazing world. It evokes my inner child. I forget everything and mesmerized by the beautiful lights adorning the sky jump up and down in excitement with each shell fired. In the last 20 years I have hardly ever missed fireworks. Be it the Macy’s grand show in New York, The famous “Red,White, and Boom” in Columbus, Ohio or the City celebration in Plano, Texas I bug and plea my husband to go to all despite his aversion to traffic, large crowds, or summer sizzling heat.
The Independence day of US and Pakistan are not far apart; one being 4th of July and the other 14th Aug. I enjoy Fireworks now and next month I will stand in a Pakistan day event overwhelmed by emotions signing the Pakistani national anthem, longing to be there, longing to see my family. Yes I embrace both sides of me and don’t feel the need to choose one over the other. I am a happy camper of both Pakistani and American camps.