A podcast about identity

Beyond Borders

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In 1912, Abubakar Khan’s family was one of the earlier families to migrate from India to America. In this episode we explore how inter-generational values can be both helpful and detrimental to our identity. 


Maheen: Hello, everyone. You’re listening to FakeID. Here, we will share stories that break down the complexities that make up our identity.

*Sounds of patriotic cheering and yelling* 

Maheen: These are the sounds you’ll hear at Wagha border. The border that separates Pakistan from India. The line that separates Lahore my birth city from Amritsar my ancestors birth place. You see before 1947, Pakistan used to be a part of India and both Lahore and I’m , we’re part of one province known as Punjab today. There’s two Punjabs, one in India and one in Pakistan. The need for partition of a new country came about as Hindus and Muslims in India were deeply divided and unwilling to co-exist in the same nation. 

Growing up in Pakistan, I was taught in books about the pain that Hindus had caused Muslims. I remember hearing a story of a train full of migrants coming to Pakistan, and when it arrived, every single person on it had been slaughtered.

*Sound of train emerging. Baby crying. Quid-e-azam asks to open the train door.*

Maheen:  I remember hearing stories of family members being lost during the partition.

And so the only thing I knew about India until the age of 16 was what was taught to me in these stories or what I had seen on TV. And I always wondered what was being taught in India about Pakistan. Now I’ve lived in Canada for a long time and some of my closest friends are Indian, but even then I must have biases within me because of what I studied growing up.

For example, if someone calls me Indian, I could be offended. Or if I was to date or marry someone Indian, it would cause a lot of discomfort in my society. And it really makes you wonder why, because we share the same history, culture, even language, and this is not just true for India versus Pakistan, but it also applies to many other countries and cultures that have managed to create divides amongst them.

And today’s guest Abubakar Khan knows exactly what that’s like.


Abubakar: My name is Abubakar Khan. A few words I would use to describe my identity. I would say hybrid fluid and ever evolving. 

Maheen: So Abubakar his family migrated to Canada and America in 1912 long before the partition ever occurred. That means that this concept of Buxton versus India doesn’t really apply to him anymore. His family is from Punjab.

Abubakar: So my family, the story is that they migrated to America first in 1912. So my great-grandfather and his father came here and they were in San Francisco, then Seattle, then Vancouver, and back then there weren’t many Brown people, so they didn’t at all. So white people, they’re all Hindus.

But it didn’t matter. So they were all really close where my great-grandfather was actually in Vancouver when this ship called the coma guy tomorrow, which had all these been jobbies came from India.

News Reporter: It was May, 1914. The Komagata Maru sailed into Vancouver’s Harbor, filled with Punjabi immigrants, all 376 men British subjects. But officials refused them entry. After two months confined on board, the ship was sent back to India where the British killed 19 passengers in prison, the rest. 

Abubakar:So it’s for me at a young age, I remember hearing stories about this. They came here and Vancouver and they docked and they were not allowed to leave the boat. So my great grandfather was actually there for that spend time with the people as this tall Muslim, South Punjabi man. My great-grandfather was like that. My grandfather grandfather’s like that. My father is like that.

And I think it was all just passed down to me of, you know, what, like spend time with different people to build bridges. Um, and the communities rather than to just get locked into an echo chamber. 

 Maheen: Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever met a desi family that puts any emphasis on bridge-building. So that’s quite incredible. So where did you grow up? Did you grow up here in Surrey? 

Abubakar: So I was born in Seattle and a place actually called Renton. It’s right, right by Seattle. So I was born there and then I would just be crossing over on the border. So I’d be in Seattle and then I’d be in Surrey and Vancouver. So as a kid, I’d always be crossing this border all the time. So I remember the border would be its own place as well. It was like a third country. 

Maheen: So how did the two places differ from each other and affect how you formed your identity in your younger years? 

Abubakar: So I think in the States, there was a little bit more multicultural for me, but then going into Canada, it was a lot of Brown people, a lot of South Asians.And so I remember as a young kid there, that’s where my identity crisis started slowly forming was when I’d be around all these Punjabi as a kid. And then they would say, I would be like, Oh, I’m Punjabi too, because my dad would speak fluent Punjabi. My mom would speak her Urdu, My dad would speak fluent Punjabi. Um, and they would always say that you’re Punjabi, but these kids would say, how can you be Punjabi? You’re Muslim? And I was like, wait, but, um, and so I remember being in Surrey, that was the issue is that there was a lot of people that look like me, but also there’s a lot of divide, but I was fortunate to be able to with my grandparents.

So with my father, my family, we were friends with Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims. So they were bridge builders and they’ve always been bridge builders. But I know that that experience was not normal for a lot of other people, because when you migrate, you kind of hang out with just Muslims and then Muslim Pakistanis, right. You kind of form around the mosque and you hang out there. So I was able to see, okay, wait a minute. I am Punjabi. What the heck is going on? I was confused, but I was able to also kind of be living in the intersection to an extent. 

The last part I’ll add is that because we came here before partition occurred and by their own choice. And then when we did migrate from the force of migration that occurred during partition, even during that, no one in my family was killed or died. So there was not a lot of trauma in that regard. Thankfully. Um, I think that’s why we were able to kind of keep those values intact. 

.Maheen: I think it’s really incredible that you have this strong family legacy that you’re continuing. I feel it’s really easy. You’re what second, third generation in America generation, 

Abubakar:  fifth generation 

Maheen: that’s unheard of. That’s really inspiring in the sense that a lot of us worry when we first moved here that the next generation won’t speak or do, or they won’t speak Punjabi. And this is. A really interesting story to be able to say that no, like five generations down there is no need to forget your identity, but to remember it alongside loving everyone around you, that’s amazing.

Abubakar: Well, it’s inevitable it’s going to happen. I think that even to that point, I’m seeing a lot, as you just said that there’s a lot of people that come here and they’re like, I want to be American. I want to be Canadian. And then what ends up happening is, as you’re saying, a generation or two, they go through that whole process. And they lose themselves and their values and that whole Eastern philosophy of collectivism and again, coming together and love and unity. And I find that, I think I’m just lucky that I’m at the kind of end of that cycle of Singapore. Wait a minute. Okay. This is not really what you want. You think that you want this. The American dream and all of that, but this is going to lead to a huge identity crisis. 

Maheen: What’s really fascinating about your story. You said 1912, right? Is when your family immigrated over. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is we grow up a lot with the biases that our families have. So I admit that I have a lot of biases in me because of my family growing up in Pakistan, post partition. And it seems that your family sort of. Exited that trap a long time ago and was able to cultivate an environment around you of love and acceptance of everybody. Is that, is that true?


Abubakar: I knew my dad’s side for sure. That was the thing because they had been here. And so they had grown up with African-Americans then growing up with budget, like you, I mean, they really had their best friends. Like my dad’s Punjabi, Sikh friends. Would literally dropped me off to a madarassa (muslim school) in Surrey, normal is, but on the other side, the flip side of that with my mom’s side, because they came from Pakistan more recently, right? Super kindhearted people, very loving, but they had been born in Pakistan and they were more of like, Oh yeah, you know what? Like we gotta stick together. We gotta live together. It’s gotta be us. So I got to see both sides of that, which is so interesting. I was hanging out with my dad’s side. It would be great. And I’d see. Okay. They’re American and they’re Canadian. They’re all born here. Um, They get it. And then my box on the side, I would have a lot of fun with them watching Pakistani cricket matches late at night, seeing against India that we hate India. We hate Suchin Tandulkar and things like that. So I got to see that as well. And that kind of really led me more into like, I guess, figuring out, okay, what’s going on here? Something doesn’t add up.


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