aqua fortis

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Rare Digression into Ethnicity

So I'm making a salad, drinking wine, and watching the Axis of Evil Comedy Tour on Comedy Central, and the Special Guest/Emcee Dean Obeidallah starts talking about how he never used to worry much about his ethnicity (Arab-American, with an Italian mother) before 9/11. And I realized how true that is. I never used to be stressed out about being Pakistani-American. At least, I was only stressed out about it for personal reasons, not political or social reasons. But since 9/11, and especially since the whole "Bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan" thing...well, I'm not so much worried for myself, but I worry about my family--my dad and my uncle, especially, who have made the U.S. their home and have been citizens since I was a small child. Whenever I hear about some poor Sikh or Hindu getting beaten or killed out of ignorance, I worry about my family members who actually are Muslim.

Shit, I worry about myself for having written the words "Muslim," "Pakistan," and "Bin Laden" in this blog post. The Department of Homeland Security is probably going to subscribe to my blog now. They will be bored to tears. I'm probably already on their watch list for being on's mailing list. I've certainly had my baggage unnecessarily searched at airports.

But usually I don't worry for myself. Mostly, I can pass. I've even had people of Arab descent ask if I'm a Spanish-speaker. Pakistani people tend to have Pakistani-radar, but lately I guess I look more ethnically ambiguous. I guess, after all, I'm only half. I don't practice Islam, and I rarely wear traditional dress. Tonight it also occurred to me that I changed my last name to Rob's during the summer of 2001. I haven't been a Baig--my name hasn't sounded overtly Pakistani--since before 9/11. It's only my middle name that still has ethnic connotations. (Incidentally, I'm only a Sarah because that's all my parents could agree on. I was close to being a Stella or a Nasreen.) I guess I've probably escaped a lot more airport searches as a Stevenson.

Okay. Enough with the rant. I blame it on the wine.


david elzey said...

Rant apologies unnecessary, your points are valid. America has made a point of being a racial diverse and adverse nation from the beginning.

I remember visiting friends in LA during the first Gulf War and there was an incident where locals trashed a mini mart and chased out the owner because he looked Middle Eastern... and he was a second generation Mexican American.

Until we start having open, honest conversations about our ingrained problems with race in this country it's going to be a long, hard slog.