Pink Conway shopping bags filled with discounted clothes, my ammi and I walking back home to our Jamaica Avenue apartment, 90s NYC. Original flavor. This was before I became embarrassed about what was in those bags, this was before I even knew that other children had vastly different experiences from mine. Content, actually, happy in a way that only comes with the blissful ignorance of youth. This tiny brown boy who just came from Pakistan in 1994 did not yet have the vocabulary to articulate that his family was struggling.
My ammi worked in fast food restaurants, like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, and my abbu worked in the nearly extinct street-side newsstands (back when the cost of cigarettes were closer to 2 dollars than 20) and later worked in an Amoco gas station. Both worked full time. I was often left home alone or with whichever relative was available, VHS tapes of Hindi movies were both my guardians and friends.
To this day, I’ve never had my own room, I’ve always had to share with siblings, or cousins or parents. Privacy was an alien concept I only heard about from my white friends. And until recently, no one in my family had graduated from college. This May, I became the first to graduate, from CUNY Queen’s College with a Bachelor’s degree in Media Studies. I developed more self-confidence, as anticipated, but also a sense of survivor’s guilt for having made it; my parents and siblings deserved this too but they had to sacrifice in ways that I never did.
I’m not ashamed of my family’s struggle, nor do I feel I missed out because of my disadvantages. In fact, I feel grateful for my entire life because it has shaped me into the awesome dude I am today.
However, to exclusively talk about the disadvantages in my life is to gloss over many of the privileges my family and I had. My ammi has sisters who married into wealthy families, and though she hasn’t had access to that money, she has had access to those resources. My abbu shared an apartment with a few other Pakistani men when he came to NYC in the 80s, but he did know someone here. And the fact that we were even able to migrate from Pakistan to NYC, not because of persecution nor hardship, but just to have better opportunities, is an immense privilege in itself.
I don’t take my privileges lightly. In fact, I firmly believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. My name is Ali Abbas and I’m an Online Communications Intern at Resource Generation and I plan on using media to open as many doors as I possibly can, for myself and for other marginalized groups of people.