Karachi vs. Kansas: Checking boxes

N (Natasha): So in the midst of my many anthropology readings, I’m starting to think about how individuality sometimes disappears when we look at a group or culture as a whole. But then again, it is rather impossible to refer to concepts without generalizing our terminology. Like, if you look at us, we’d probably look the same on paper — we would “check off the same boxes.”

F (Faryal): We’re both Pakistani-American, Muslim, female, have parents from the same profession, are from the Midwest and have two siblings. Our friendship can probably be attributed to these similarities, but we’re very different people if you look beyond these boxes.

N: Exactly. Each of those general labels has many more layers and variables to it, which are apparent in different places and situations. In Pakistan, for example, because it’s such a new country, national identity is regionally bound by ethno-linguistic groups. My family would be classified as “Kashmiri-Punjabi,” and while such distinctions are less prevalent in contemporary society, their legacies remain salient when locating our identities among often tumultuous political landscapes.  

F: Ethnicity, race and nationality are all different things, yet their individual importance is often erased here in the United States. We get lumped in categories that lose meaning because they are so incredibly vague. Take the term “Asian,” for example. Asia is a continent of about four and a half billion people from 48 different countries. When I check the “Asian” box on a form, I’m not sure how much information I’m revealing besides the fact that I’m probably not white.

N: Where we are also changes how we and others see our identity. We’ve found that in the United States, minorities are constantly struggling between building up strength within their own communities and working in solidarity with other groups to create a bigger impact. In Pakistan, there is a struggle between being of the diaspora and being Pakistani. Pakistanis often don’t see us as truly Pakistani because we aren’t as in tune with the country’s trials and tribulations and tend to hold idealized images of “back home.” That’s why it can be so difficult to simply check a box or join an organization. I often feel that I’m never being entirely represented.

F: I understand that for the sake of efficiency and good enough data, we can’t always delve into the deeper levels of each person. I do believe, however, that some of these nuances do need to be addressed better.

N: I am not sure if there even is a solution to what is essentially more of an uneasy feeling. We don’t feel adequately represented by the labels that we are given. They don’t represent the story of who we are or where we come from. We will never quite fit into the boxes we check.