Over 50 years ago, a twentysomething Pakistani from a small rural town clawed his entire family out of poverty by believing in grand dreams that could only be realized in a distant land called America. His ticket there came at the price of falling in love with the drive for an education, a privilege few could afford but one that he earned with true grit and divine opportunity. Outside his academia, he scavenged for time just to memorize the whole of the Qur’an, over 6,000 verses that carried a deep rooted love for humanity, service, and respect for people unlike him. So when he arrived on the shores of Norfolk, Virginia in the early ’60s, he came as a rigrously-selected university professor with hopes of teaching a people he could call his own. Within the years, he slowly brought his brothers and sisters so they, too, could be enriched by living the American dream. My grandfather, his brother-in-law, was among the first to be brought over. Despite his decaying health, my grandfather’s patience and hard work brought over my father and the rest of the family to build from a humble beginning. Because of this legacy, I was the first from my immediate family born in a land called America. I know no other home.
My granduncle passed away a month ago as we held his funeral service in the mosque he built brick by brick, cemented with interfaith dialogue and community service in the city that welcomed him 50 years before. He was Muslim. He was Pakistani. He was American. He left over 100+ family members in a land we call home because of him. We are grateful. We are educated. We are imperfect. We are career-driven. We are giving. We are Muslim. We are Pakistani. We are American.
The immigrant story is part of the legacy my granduncle has given me. I’m forever connected to any that arrive at these shores with a dream, to seek refuge in a place where an audacity for hope can build a better tomorrow. And even though bigoted policies have been signed attempting to tarnish that legacy, the outpouring of love and support people have shown in response can only renew it.
Keep loving. Keep renewing. Keep being.