In 2011, following the massive floods that devastated northern Pakistan, I wrote an article, “Remembering Swat Valley’s Madyan,” which was published in the online Pakistan Forum. Among other things, the article spoke about Moambar Khan, the man in Madyan who owned a shop and also rented rooms to foreigners in 1978, when I first discovered the village on the Swat River. The article was written in memory of not only the location, but of Moambar Khan and his family, who were my gateway into understanding Pashtun culture. I came and went to Madyan intermittently throughout the 1980s, to 1990.
One day in 2019, as I happened to check my Facebook Notifications page, which I was only just discovering, I found a message: “Hello, I am Naveed Khan, son of Moambar Khan from Madyan. I would like to meet you.” The message had been sitting there over a year.
My article had found its way to the Madyan school teacher, who stopped Naveed Khan to tell him about it, saying that the author had spoken highly of his father, and asking if he knew me. Naveed was born after 1990, so I never met him, although I had known his older siblings as children. He brought the news home, where his siblings recognized my name, and showed him an old photo they had kept of me with their father, taken in 1988.
We began communicating, and I learned that both of Naveed’s parents had passed away, and that his older brother had married a French woman and was living in Switzerland. I even spoke over VOIP with his older sister, who is now a grandmother like me. It was truly a heartwarming reconnection.
The long and short of it is that, insh’Allah, Naveed Khan will visit the U.S. this summer and visit with us in Pennsylvania. Despite all that you read about Pakistan in the Media, the country is made up of real people. This exchange remains, and if anyone ever wants to visit the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan, I can guarantee you a warm welcome and hospitality to make your experience memorable.
NOT ALL IMMIGRANTS ARE CREATED EQUAL: THE OTHER STORY
We encounter this underworld of unauthorized immigrants daily in our busy lives: cab drivers, convenience store and fast food employees, gas station attendants, food truck servers, cleaning staff, and farm laborers. We just don’t stop to ask their stories. They are often too busy on their phones talking with family back home or furiously passing news about their exile community, warning each other of raids and deportations, like stalked prey, ever on the lookout for the hawk.
At a time when sparks are flying over building walls and immigration policy, and bias has infiltrated our political and cultural environment to the disadvantage of outsiders, it is high time to consider the other side of immigration. The “melting pot” theory used to be the standard, with immigrants flocking from Europe, then China, etc., blended with slaves from Africa, combined to create a homogenous society, based on language, culture, and a fervent belief that America was the place to flourish.
A plethora of immigrant literature surfaced, success stories with firsthand accounts of immigrants who struggled to achieve assimilation into American society. Education and a strong work ethic were key to rising above and “making it.” First generation immigrants ensured that their children became fully Americanized - language, sports, jobs, friends – sometimes at the expense of their original cultural heritage.
But 9/11 brought this to a halt. Suddenly all Muslims became the enemy, associated with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and terrorism in general. There is no need to repeat the stories we’ve all read of violent acts performed against Muslims for no other reason than bias. “All Muslims are terrorists,” the FBI was found teaching its trainees in 2009. The more it could identify, round up and deport potential terrorists, the more efficient the government could appear in keeping the nation secure.
The blatant xenophobia demonstrated in the U.S. government has spurred a different group of temporary unauthorized immigrants, who hate back, who harbor no desire to assimilate in any manner, who are fully aware that they can never flourish in America. They settle wherever their ethnic group has already established permanency, even in prior times. They live as cheaply as possible, hustle to work for cash in whatever manner they can, often balancing multiple jobs, and send as much of that cash home to support their family. They know they are disadvantaged and unprivileged economically, but they accept this to maintain anonymity and remain under the government’s radar. In many cases, it’s still better than what they could be earning back home, often under oppressive conditions. They rely on the exiled group’s in-house resources: doctors, lawyers, and service specialists. Nothing can persuade them to turn to local authorities for advice or assistance. On the contrary, they are forever looking over their shoulder for these authorities; they live in fear of deportation. Apart from laboring to send money home, they aspire only to quietly and anonymously live out their term and then return to retire.
Today’s arguments focus on immigrants seeking to settle in America, a threat to our social services, but this other group, comprising some 140,000 unauthorized individuals from the Middle East alone, have quite another agenda we tend to ignore.