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Unmasking the Stereotypes About America and Pakistan

Narmeen Hashim

I was born and raised in Pakistan. It gave me everything and made me who I am today, so I am a representative of my country. It is easy to embrace the culture that is familiar to people, but it requires time to accept and adopt a different culture. I would have never known what other people think about my country except I happened to become an ambassador and foreigner in America, where I could hear the world’s views about Pakistan. Going to a new place with new culture is never easy. It is difficult to survive in a place not knowing how you will be treated. This happens because we focus on stereotypes rather than knowing the reality about that place and its people.

Just like the people of one family are not alike, similarly, people of the same country should never be defined by the stereotypes of their country or religion. They should be treated on the basis of who they are as a person. It is not right to make a judgment about a country or a religion just because of one person’s wrong action. Good or bad cannot be defined by the country or religion, as our creator did not distinguish us while creating.

Before coming to the US, I had no idea how Americans would treat me based on my appearance and identity. I have heard some stereotypes that American people are racist and not friendly to people from other countries because America is a well-known developed country, and they feel superior to others. Pakistan, being different from America in its culture, language, and tradition, would be too hard for them to accept. All I could think of was me being isolated and the unkind behavior of people towards me. It was very hard for me, because I come from a culture which is enthusiastic, friendly, and helpful to one another. Whenever a foreigner comes to my country, we warmly welcome him and make him feel at home. Although I was nervous and unaware of the reality, still, I never believed the stereotypes, which is the reason I came to America. I do not believe in words unless I experience them. I had to know about Americans and had to learn the truth so that I could unmask the stereotypes.

Within a week of living in the US, I felt things to be completely opposite of what I had heard. People were friendly and welcoming, just like in my country. I lived with a host family who was American. My host family loved me and took care of me just like my own family, and it felt good to be in a new place but with the same love and care for me. I knew my time in America would be full of surprises. Next, college life with new faces observing me was hard to absorb, but sooner than ever people became familiar. Faces walked by me, smiling and greeting me many times during the day. Now I know that all you have to do is smile and greet each other warmly and they will become your friends. At first I would find it strange for people who didn’t know me to greet me anyway, but with time I got so used to it that it is now strange for me to watch people walk by and not smile back.

The first few days of college were all about the international students hanging out together, but when we went to different classes, we began to make a lot of American friends. They admire me and my culture and want to learn more about my country. To them it is new, different, and inspiring. The interaction and circle of a lot of friends always keep me busy, and that is the reason I feel less homesick. The first step to unmasking the stereotypes is knowing that people are different.

Apart from that, in order to make friends from a different culture and country, one must know about their culture or religion. I think people want to ask questions about my country and culture, but they do not because they fear their questions will offend me in some way. I would love to answer their questions so that they can learn the truth about my country. Some people ask me if Pakistan is a deserted, strict, violent country. I answer them with a question: do I look like any of these things? If no, then there is no reality in such baseless, stereotypic stories. The truth is that Pakistan is the opposite of all these things. It is true that people configure the image before actually knowing the people of different culture; however, it is surprising how people change their perception after they meet you and become friends with you. Going back to the questions about my country, I will share the fact that it is an agricultural country and has industrial and nuclear power. The Pakistani people are very hospitable. They stand with you when you are happy or sad— just like a family. After meeting me, many American friends want to come over to Pakistan because they know a Pakistani personally and do not believe the stereotypes.

If a country you live in decided your personality, there would be no difference between a sinner and a saint. It is not possible for people to be all good or all bad, so it is better not to judge anyone before you come to know him or her. No matter your country or religion, everyone makes their own identity. It is better to make a perception rather than having a good or bad opinion about anyone. One thing is for sure, love begets love; if you expect good for others, they will do the same for you.

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