Growing up female in American often puts you at a disadvantage. It often seems there are many more opportunities open to men than women in America, even today. Throw in any kind of curve, such as ethnicity or religious background, and the gap between men and women, American and "foreigner," widens. People are not always what they seem on the outside, you know. Take your narrator, for example. A twenty-six-year-old female, born in the United States, and grew up in Forestville, Maryland. This could be anyone in the world. Except, it is not. It is a real person with real ideals and real emotions. Throw in the title "Pakistani Muslim," and the complete package changes. To some people, this person changes simply because of that title. Life is definitely more difficult because of that title.
The family neighborhood in Forestville is not what you might think. It is not a middle-class white neighborhood full of green lawns and trees. It is a predominately black neighborhood. You learn a lot about life in a short time in a neighborhood like that, and it will color the rest of your life. Times are tough, and many families live in poverty, or with drug addiction, or mental illness. Yet, the lessons from this neighborhood were long lasting and always positive. Living on the "wrong side of the tracks" makes you appreciate everything you have, rather than wallowing in what you don't have. You see young black men pick themselves up off the streets and get decent jobs. You see neighborhood activists working on cleaning up the neighborhood and creating parks and recreation centers for the kids. You see people struggling to make ends meet who still have time to sit on their front porch and gossip with the neighbors while they watch their kids play stick ball in the street. You see families trying to better themselves, and it gives you hope. There was a lot of hope in that neighborhood, and living there, you couldn't help but feel it rub off on you. It was tough, but many people had it tougher. At least there were schools, parks, and libraries. There were people who cared about each other, and weren't afraid to show it. When you grow up in a neighborhood like that, your experiences carry with you all through your life. They were all positive experiences, and they make you want to give something back to the people who live there when you can. It may be years from now, but you know you'll do it. You'll go back and make a difference for someone, just as they made a difference for you.
Growing up in a black neighborhood didn't seem odd at the time. People are ignorant sometimes, and they would think your dark Pakistani skin was just another black skinned native. Sometimes the native dress fooled them, but usually, their white eyes just passed through you. You were invisible, because you were different. Some of the teachers at school were like this. When they overlook you enough, you tend to draw into yourself, and shrink away from contact. Books become your best friends. Reading takes you to other worlds, where people are all kind and no one cares what color you are. They give you hope, too, just as the neighborhood does.
Your father was schizophrenic. Your mother stayed with him through it all, for thirty-six years. He died three years ago, and you cannot simply say goodbye easily, no matter how difficult he made life sometimes. This is a difficult situation for a child, and you must learn quickly that not all people are the same. Some are different. Some are ill. Some are simply too tired to go on with life and its' problems. You miss your father, no matter what, but your mother takes on new roles in a situation like that. She shows you how strong a woman can be, and how to play the dual role of mother and father when it is necessary. Mom did those things.
When you grow up in poverty and difficulty, you often value the value of an education. It's drilled into you from a young age. Mother sent her three daughters to college because she was adamant that her girls would get…