Walking around any college campus in North America or the UK, one can easily spot South Asians clustered in nationally and ethnically monolithic groups. Within these groups, there are two distinct types of desi. One is the desi (a recent immigrant or international student who has spent most of his/her life in the native country, whether it be Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, etc.) and the other is the confused desi (whether you’re in America, Britain or Canada, you can be sure that the ABCD/BBCD/CBCD has spent precious little time in the homeland and his/her parents are the primary connection to the Land of the Pure).
Personally, I was first exposed to the difference between Pakistanis and CBCDs while dealing with the Pakistani Students Federation (PSF) at the University of Toronto (UT) in Canada in the wake of the devastating 2005 earthquake. At that time, I noticed some differences in approach and sentiment. But the disconnect that exists between CBCDs and Pakistan really hit home during the 2008 lawyers’ movement: General sahib’s aspirations at dictatorial rule didn’t seem to bother them in the least, and their abject detachment was a far cry from the distress of Pakistanis who had recently left their homeland for Canada.
The apathy towards Pakistani domestic affairs from most CBCDs stems from a fundamental difference in their conception of patriotism. First-generation immigrants tend to hold on to their culture and values resiliently. However, while they succeed in passing on their language and culture to a certain extent, their children cannot and should not be expected to be as passionate towards Pakistan – a place that inevitably remains alien to them. In most cases, their knowledge of Pakistan is limited and many have to rely on media snippets to get a sense of life in the homeland. Of course, this lack of passion does not necessarily translate into a lack of interest. As Saim Siqqidui, president of the PSF at UT explains, ‘it seems more of a quest to connect with the past, to ameliorate nostalgia.’
In an effort to connect, CBCDs had hijacked the leadership of the PSF (much like other confused desis dominate South Asian societies across North American college campuses) and geared the group’s activities towards bhangra nights and formal dinners that had little to do with the seismic events taking place in Pakistan. So much so that when the country was on the precipice of a popular revolution (the first lawyers’ movement), Pakistani students groups refused to distribute invites to protests, claiming they weren’t interested in ‘taking sides.’ The difference of opinion between Pakistanis and their immigrant counterparts escalated to such an extent that there were calls for a separate student group catering exclusively to ‘real deal’ Pakistanis.
The fact is, those with stronger ties to the homeland often get irritated with what they perceive to be faux concern from CBCDs. Many also resent CBCDs’ attempts to claim the native country, and, instead of joining hands with their immigrant counterparts, they trumpet their ‘authenticity’ and mock the pretensions of more ‘confused’ desis.
But why should Pakistanis care so much about what CBCDs get up to? Is it a manifestation of our incurable love of gossip? A simple case of sour grapes? Or does this hostility have an economic rationale behind it? With a substantial amount of remittance making its way to Pakistan courtesy of those in the diaspora, the last seems the more logical option.
Without a constant stream of first generation immigrants, the financial support Pakistan receives from expatriates may dwindle substantially. Knowing that diaspora Pakistanis have literally bought their right to claim Pakistan as their own, desis have to grudgingly accept them even while perceiving that they hail from what is essentially a different culture. And, no doubt, desis’ emotions towards confused desis are tinged with envy: after all, the latter group enjoy the benefits of First World living and can be patriotic without being cynical – advantages denied to desis from the homeland.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that notions of patriotism and nationalism are powerful (and relatively recent) social constructs that are being challenged and stretched due to an increasingly cosmopolitan world. In such a dynamic fusion of humanity, perhaps notions of nationhood don’t quite apply. It could be the archaic nature of these prevalent concepts that lead to crises of identity. Pakistanis are themselves divided upon what their identity entails, so it is rather perplexing to see the ‘confused’ term used exclusively to refer to Pakistanis abroad. With the world struggling to keep up with its own progress, measures need to be taken to move us from our reactive positions to more proactive ones. Is that too much to ask for?
Source: Toronto-based Talha Zaheer, Dawn