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No, the sunglasses shielded us from his stare, unrelenting, shadowed, looking out into space as if he was seeing another life play out. Not within our Pakistani immigrant community in New York.
His cigarette made a slow glowing arc from the glass ashtray on the folding table to his mouth, hidden behind the curling gray smoke. In the world I grew up in, mental illness was a taboo topic. And only within the walls of our Borough Park apartment. It became the prayer and the demand we based our lives on.
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After my father passed away in his sleep almost seven years ago, part of me thought we were finally free of the stigma, finally free of fear, finally free of the isolation we often felt.
After all, he had died as the proud owner of a beautiful little house with a lemon tree in the backyard.
God wouldn’t have done all of that if he didn’t plan on making it better. How many of our uncles and aunties, having left behind good jobs and respectable homes in Pakistan, grew depressed and disheartened when the American Dream did not embrace them right away. It became a comfortable shawl that I wrapped myself in even though I had no rational reason to do so.
I was educated and knew the medical reasons behind schizophrenia, how it was an unfortunate gamble involving genetics and environmental stress factors in which the loser had to pay with his sanity.
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Whether it's dating or marrying someone of a different race, interracial relationships are not a new phenomenon among Asian Americans. It was not until 1967, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, that the U. Supreme Court ruled in the case that such laws were unconstitutional. As suc, one could argue that it's only been in recent years that interracial marriages have become common in American society.
When the first Filipino and Chinese workers came to the U. Of course, anti-miscegenation laws were part of a larger anti-Asian movement that eventually led to the Page Law of 1875 that effectively almost eliminated Chinese women from immigrating ot the U.
“I think it’s pretty, the way Daddy’s hands glow and the smoke climbs in to the sky,” I said to my older brother. He stops talking, smokes all day and then it gets bad. But he’s so sick that he can’t be our Daddy right now.” Schizophrenia is a word I learned even before I could speak properly. But I knew the word I could barely pronounce was attached to Daddy. Outside of our little apartment, for the outside world, for the aunties clad in satiny salwar kameez or cheap wool pants and ill-fitting sweaters, who would take the train down to the Fort Hamilton Parkway subway stop to visit my mother, for them the diagnosis was simply depression. God wouldn’t have brought my parents and my brother and sister from Pakistan to New York, only to leave them in darkness. He would get better and then we would carry on with the hopes and dreams that my parents had originally imagined in their little North Nazimabad house, in the humid coastal city of Karachi.
“It’s not pretty,” Kamran replied curtly, only ten years old but already aged beyond his years, the unfortunate side effect of being the only boy sandwiched between two sisters, the unwitting man of the house when my father sat with his thoughts. “He lost his job and we have all of these bills, of course, of course he’s depressed,” Mummy said. He wouldn’t have brought me into the world just as Daddy’s mental illness began to spiral out of control, when he was still a young man, not even 40 yet. Daddy’s depression simply hit the pause button on those dreams. The label of depression made complete sense to our immigrant community. Lying became ingrained in my DNA for almost 40 years.
We weren’t allowed to use the words paagal, or its English translation, for any reason in our house.