The Transition Generation

Re-Defined Culture

September 26, 2012
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Hello, all! I know it has been a while since I posted, so I apologize. Well, this week, I think I’ll talk about food again (it is one of my favorite subjects, after all). I recently read this online article from The Washington Post which got me thinking again how immigrant cultures adapt their food for the American masses, and how we re-define ourselves to avoid bad situations.

The article discusses the (former Iranian) owner of a U.S. restaurant serving “American” food who was asked to cater a Persian celebration, despite the fact that he had not cooked Persian food for decades. He relied on his sisters to train him and eventually got the taste he needed. But I’d like to point out a few things in the article I found interesting: 1) That Iranians have re-defined themselves as Persians to avoid the suspicious stares and comments the word “Iran” evokes, and 2) The loss of culture.

Let’s first talk about redefinition. This is something I can completely relate to – my family background is Pakistani and I often refer to myself as Southeast Asian to avoid the troubled looks and hurtful comments that could (and have) come my way. Let me make myself clear: I am in no way ashamed of my lineage, my home/parent country, or my family. I just want to avoid being unjustly accused of being a terrorist by random strangers. In the article, the Iranians who have redefined themselves are also business owners who, understandably, don’t want bad press and want people to feel at home in their restaurants.  In my first post, I talked about how a name can affect people’s perception of you; the same is true for ethnicity. If you go into a Persian restaurant and see the name Maziar, you wouldn’t think twice. But I, as a writer, do hesitate at times and prefer to use a pseudonym.

Next, let’s talk about the loss of culture. In the article, Maziar had given up on Persian food while his sisters (also in America) had not. We could talk a lot about the role of women in preserving culture (and I may at some point in the future), but let’s talk instead about the fact that Maziar opened an “American” food restaurant and not a Persian one. Maziar states in the article that he “felt the pressure of representing” his culture when catering the Persian event – this is something I can relate to. People often come to me and expect me to be the Pakistani representative – they assume that how I act and behave is how all Pakistanis behave, and, if they see something contrary on the news, will expect me to behave that way as well. A lot of this is ignorance of a culture or unwillingness to learn about new societies and cultures, but it can also be about the media perpetuating stereotypes. Pakistanis are just human beings – there are good ones and bad ones, just like in the U.S. and it’s wrong to generalize an entire group of people on one person or their actions. But, in Maziar’s case, coming in the late 1970s, I can see how he just wanted to fit in (don’t we all?). I’m reminded of an episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry convinces a local Mexican restaurant owner (whose background is Pakistani) to open a restaurant of Pakistani food instead. He does, it opens, it does very badly, and the man is deported.  A comedic half-hour, but a true tale nonetheless for those who took a chance on opening a restaurant of traditional dishes once upon a time.

These days, especially in the bigger cities, it’s not hard to find food for every culture and country, or even the supplies you need to make it at home. Here’s hoping things continue to get better in the years to come, and that immigrants won’t have to redefine themselves in the future.

Thanks for reading!



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Add a holiday here, subtract a holiday there …

February 14, 2012
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So as members of Generation T, growing up in America means a lot of different things – some of which we’ve discussed in previous posts – but today, on Valentine’s Day, I’m going to talk about another aspect: holidays.

Now we have a number of lovely holidays in the US (including Valentine’s).  My favorite would have to be Thanksgiving – good food, family, friends, a fall climate, and enjoyment all in one place … it even comes with a annual parade! But immigrants to this country, my parents included, don’t always celebrate these holidays – at least not at first. My own parents didn’t start celebrating Thanksgiving until I was really in college … which is at least 17 years after they moved to this country.

Each country has its own set of holidays and customs, and Gen T-ers tend to celebrate those.  But those holidays and also religious holidays come with their own set of hurdles, as in their “home” country people may have had the day off for these special days, but not necessarily in the US.  Employers are encouraged to allow people an extra day or two in addition to their vacation time for such holidays (though this typically only applies to religious holidays).  But with the economic downturn and other variables in play, most people are forced to take vacation time for these days.  This is where things get tricky.  What if your vacation time is limited to just 2 or less weeks per year, or you don’t accumulate sick time and only have 2 weeks per year for any sick days or vacation days. Or, even worse, you don’t accumulate vacation time because you are a part-time worker, and you lose out on regular pay by missing a day of work.  So a joyous day of celebration suddenly becomes a tough decision to make. And that’s how some of the older customs and traditions are lost … you simply can’t afford to continue them every year.

So as immigrant families adapt to life in the US, they also slowly begin to adapt to new holidays.  A lot of stores are closed on Thanksgiving or other federal holidays, so you begin to adapt celebrations to occur on those days and over those long weekends. Every culture which considers family important also seems to focus on the family meal as a way to connect, so why not use Thanksgiving as a way to get together? And that’s how it starts to happen. And, as you begin to celebrate those days, so do your children who in turn celebrate them with their kids one day. And you pick those one or two special holidays that you just can’t miss, and take them off of work (or hope they fall on a weekend or other day you might be off anyway).

What American holidays have you embraced? Let me know, and let’s keep the discussion going.

Thanks for reading!


The Outdoor Illusion, Part 1

January 28, 2012
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The Great Outdoors – it’s not just a funny movie starring the late, great John Candy. It’s that thing outside your window with the tall leafy things, small bushy things, and sweet smelling colorful petal-ed things with animals of all shapes and sizes.

The outdoors means something different to everyone, I’ve found. To some the outdoors is the urban park they visit in a city, or a more traditional park with picnic benches, barbecue grills, and paths for hiking, running, or biking. It can be the neighborhood in which they go walking or running each morning, or it’s the thing they avoid at all costs.

To members of Generation T, or the Transition Generation, the outdoors can seem a challenge.  Through interviews I’ve conducted with people from SE Asia, Central & South America, and other places, here’s a few things I’ve learned.

  • Some cultures see the outdoors as work – farming, agriculture, pasture land that must be maintained for livelihood, but not necessary for long life.  Recreation just doesn’t enter their thoughts when they consider the outdoors.
  • Others see the outdoors not for recreation, but just as a way from getting from Point A to Point B.
  • To some cultures, the outdoors was simply not a safe place to go.  Even getting simple things like food is a challenge, so there’s no need to spend unnecessary time outside.
  • Still others fear the outdoors.  Someone mentioned to me that while they, who are Gen T-ers, didn’t mind and enjoyed recreating outdoors, their immigrant parents were very adverse to it.  Some stated that it wasn’t even because of the outdoors itself but because of the uniforms – the Park Ranger uniforms, they say, too closely resemble the Border Patrol uniforms and, even though they are in the country legally, they are still wary when seeing them.
  • And yet, there are even those who just can’t grasp the concept of recreating outdoors.  Sports they understand, but beyond that they don’t see an appeal to hike, bike, walk, or even picnic outside.  Maybe they just don’t know where to start.

And then there is American culture, where your exposure to the beauty and wonder of the outdoors varies depending on the state and city in which you live (and not only that but if you are living in the city itself or a suburban area).  A lot of people I’ve spoken to have brought up the Nature vs Nurture debate, stating that if the parents are interested the kids will be and I do agree with that to a certain extent. But consider my situation (which is the same as some other Gen T-ers) whose parents were not “into the outdoors” but the kids found it all the same. Whether it was due to the influence of school recess (equating freedom to a child with the outdoors always works, don’t you think?), the influence of friends or other people in the child’s life, they all discovered the power and wonder of the outdoors.

The outdoors in general don’t get a lot of attention, even in these modern times or possibly because of them.   They mean something different to everyone and, just like British comedy or the opera, they tend to either love, hate it, or at least appreciate it even if they don’t get it.  (In case you were wondering, I adore British comedy.)

This is just the first in a series of blogs about the outdoors which I’ll write this year, so I hope you come back and join the conversation.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.

Thanks for reading!


The Language Barrier

June 21, 2011

So, apparently I was not a very verbal child.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to talk, because I did, I just didn’t see the need to express myself all the time (and, as you have probably realized from these blogs, I still have trouble expressing myself at times).  Anyway, because I didn’t like to talk, my parents were worried that something was wrong was me.  The doctor assured my parents that I was healthy, but that maybe I was confused by the different languages spoken in the house and that they should stick with only one for the time being.

We spoke Urdu and English in the house, and my parents proficient in both.  But when the doctor mentioned his idea, my parents picked English.  I think they did this in part because my brother was learning English in school, but mostly because we were now American and I would live and educate myself in English.  It was a conscious decision on their part to put aside their own culture, for a time, for the betterment of their child’s life – to make sure they succeeded. 

These days, many of my cousins, me included, are not fluent in Urdu.  Some of my cousins have had the opportunity to travel more to the “parent country” as it were, and are fluent and I do envy them at times.  But the language is slowly fading out as members of Generation T (or the Transition Generation as I call us), assimilate to a different country, America, and a different language, English.  Other ethnic groups do not necessarily face this problem, since in most schools for a language we choose between Spanish or French, or perhaps even Italian, and even Chinese is becoming more common which, if we follow the future depicted in Firefly, we will all need to speak one day anyway. 

The good news is that I can still learn to speak and read it – more and more universities are offering it as a language option (and I do hope Rosetta Stone takes the hint as well).  The bad news is that there may not be much of a language for me to learn.  Urdu itself is a mismatched language to begin with, and the name itself means “army”. It was created in the 1600s by an army, which consisted of Persian, Arab, and Turkish soldiers, while they worked to conquer India to allow for better communication between the soldiers.  However, these days there seems to be an English-Urdu hybrid, Endu or Urlish, which has taken over, at least in America. 

So it leaves one to wonder: when does a language die? Are we, as members of Generation T, the reason for the decline of particular languages?  Or are we just speeding up the process?  Are we making a conscious or unconscious choice to let go of this part of our histories to make room for new memories, experiences, and opportunities for our own children? And will our children be better for it, or will they experience a sense of loss they cannot fully explain?

Perhaps these thoughts are too deep for a blog post, but it is something that I wonder about.  Let me know what you think by commenting below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading,


The Magical Deliciousness of Lucky Charms

June 7, 2011

Food is a big part of many cultures. The family meal becomes a central place where you join together to share your day and enjoy your family, no matter how crazy or loud or amazing they might be.

But when you travel to another country, especially to live there, you have to become accustomed to different types of food and their availabilities, and you may have to get used to the absence of certain staples of your former meals until they become imported more regularly. Such was true of my parents. Sure the main staples were there: bread, milk, eggs, etc. But dangers lurked along the aisles of the grocery store too.

Danger . . . by the name of Lucky Charms.

Now let me first say the magical deliciousness of Lucky Charms is not lost on me. As children, my cousins and I ate this cereal quite a bit. But what we, and my parents, did not realize is that marshmallows are made with gelatin, a substance which is made by boiling the bones and connective tissues of animals, which for religious and cultural reasons we should not have eaten. It’s a problem other members of Generation T (my nickname for members of the Transition Generation) have had: unknowingly consuming foods that contradict religious and cultural beliefs. Lucky Charms are just one example, but there are several others out there. I have to admit that these days (as opposed the ‘80s when I was growing up), international food items are much more readily available. Even a small-town grocery store will have an “international aisle” even if it only consists of taco shells and salsa. The bigger cities (and bigger grocery chains) can boast a more robust international aisle, with items for not only your favorite Mexican dish, but also for Middle-Eastern, Asian, and Indian food, among others. So for us who have suffered in Generation T, we will at least take comfort in the fact that it will be easier for our kids to navigate the cereal aisle and pick out an eye-appealing yet very unhealthy box of food and prizes.

So, can eating Lucky Charms lead to eternal damnation for eating a forbidden substance? Who knows. I do know that God forgives, so hopefully these transgressions of our youth will be forgiven. Now if only they made a kosher version of Lucky Charms … we’d almost have it made.

Thanks for reading,


The Box That Changed the World

May 24, 2011

It was a sunny day.  I came home from school – I was in first grade then.  I walked in the door and turned my head to the left and saw a small box atop the television, and I knew my life would never be the same. What was this box that changed my life – it was, in fact, the cable box.

Before you laugh and decide to stop reading, let me say that for this gal, television really did change my life.  Television, and film as well, I’ve found have the power to cross cultural boundaries quickly in a way few other mediums do.  Television grew quickly as a medium here in the US, but in other countries film made more of an impact early on.  My father talks about watching Spaghetti Westerns as a child and that being his first introduction to American cinema and history.  Even Khaled Hosseini mentions it in his book, The Kite Runner.  I know American immigrants who watched old American films and learned English from them – learned colloquial sayings which, though outdated, say those films made them feel more like an American.

For me, I had a similar experience.  Growing up in a world that was decidedly different from my classmates, television gave me a window, albeit at times a stereotypical one, into their lives.  The events they would face in the future, such as various problems in high school, I then learned I would also face.  It helped me understand my classmates better, and helped me understand the world around me.  People are afraid of what they don’t know – and I suppose I was afraid of my classmates for the same reason they may have been a little afraid of me.  The only difference was, I could study their habits and behavior by watching the great American tv shows of the 1980s and 1990s, while they had no real way to learn about me. 

Television also helped overcome my shyness to a certain extent.  While I felt I couldn’t relate to the experiences of much of my classmates – proms, dances, etc. – we all related to the latest episode of a popular television show, movie, or song.  We would debate as to who really shot J.R., the dramatic turn of events on Growing Pains, or the humor in the Cosby Show, and color didn’t matter. 

Pop culture seems to trump racial tension – at least for awhile anyway.  And that’s probably why I am still obsessed with television, movies, and music even today.  It speaks for me in a way I can’t speak myself (despite the troublesome stereotypes which still exist) and gives me a topic to discuss during any lull in a conversation.  Who didn’t want to talk about Lost when it first premiered or the finales of Cheers and Seinfeld the morning after? 

Television has left an impression on me that will surely stay the rest of my life.  Television is not my life, but it has helped to shape it, guide it, and help me along the way.  And since tv shows keep getting more sophisticated and clever, my tv addiction will probably not wane anytime soon.

Has there been a tv show or movie which has affected your life?  Tell me about it in the comment section below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Thanks for reading


Those School Girl Days: The Early Years

May 17, 2011
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The first day of school ever – a day most of us don’t forget.  It’s one of those milestone moments in your life that stick in the photo album of memories we all store in our heads. My parents took a picture (and no I won’t post it here – believe me it’s for the best), and I headed off on the bus for my first day at kindergarten. 

My kindergarten class was pretty typical.  There was the one kid who cried every day when his parents left, another kid who ate paste, the pretty one the boys followed, the teacher’s pet … all the clichés were there.  And then there was me – the unassuming, quiet one who, according to my report card, should try to overcome her shyness and work with the other children more. 

There are a few memories that stick out as I think about kindergarten.  First, I remember that my teacher, while always nice, probably should have pursued a new line of work.  She rarely encouraged, and the memories which stick out the most are the times that she told me my work wasn’t good enough.  It’s kindergarten; what constitutes good work? One time, I remember I colored a picture for her from my Jem coloring book, and she gave me a critique on the colors I should have chosen and then she gave it back to me.  I should point out that I was pretty bright kid (not a genius or anything, but a step or two above the kid who ate paste). I started kindergarten at 4 and I could already read, but apparently I still needed to hone by ability to choose complimentary colors while drawing and make less bold choices.

Another memory which sticks out from kindergarten was the day my older brother’s class came to visit and read us a story.  I was so excited!  Of course, in typical older brother fashion, he signaled me as soon as he walked in and basically told me not to recognize him.  That was a little hard to do in our school, if you catch my meaning. But he did grow out of his aversion to picking on me … eventually … many years later.  And now we get along great and are also friends.

So what does this have to do with being a child of immigrants?  Well, it just goes to show that while some experiences may be harder for us than others (such as those mentioned in my blog from last week), other experiences transcend cultures.  I mean, what little sister didn’t have an older brother or sister who enjoyed teasing and tormenting her in her early years?  Or a teacher who seemed less than enthusiastic about you as a student (condemning my color choice was a step in the wrong direction, I think). We all go through those experiences in our lifetime; my parents went through it, I went through it, and one day my children may go through it as well.

What experiences did you have in kindergarten?  Please comment and keep the conversation going.

Thanks for reading,


What’s in a name?

May 9, 2011

My name is Mehvish (pronounced mav-ish).  Call me Mehv.  That’s really where my story starts: my name.  It is not your typical American name (if there even is such a thing anymore), but in the 80’s it stood out more than a Flock of Seagulls haircut.  I have also been told by elementary school teachers what a masculine sounding name it is – I should point out here that I am a woman, not a man, so you can imagine what that comment did to my fragile, pre-adolescent female mind.

With my name, or most likely any name, we’re seemingly judged right from the get-go.  In school, teachers see your name before they ever see you, unless you’re slightly tanner than the rest of the class – then they know you’re the odd name out.  But I can’t tell you the number of times I have been judged by my name alone.  Rest assured, reader (if there is anyone reading this blog), that the majority of my teachers were kind and good people and never treated me differently. I was always extremely shy and introverted as a kid, really until college, but still I was judged until they realized I was hard-working and studious.

But before you think I dislike my name, reader, let assure you that I love it, unconditionally.  I believe that people grow into their names and I cannot imagine the person I would be had I grown up with a different name. 

So what does a name have to do with the purpose of this blog? Well, I am a member of what I call the Transition Generation: the children of American immigrants who learn the ins-and-outs of American life and culture and must help their parents, and eventually their own children, transition to an American way of life. My parents, indeed many of the parents of the Transition Generation, came to America in search of a better life for me and my brother.  The life here was and is different from the life they knew, but my brother and I are better for it.  The course of our lives were changed when they made the brave decision to come here, and now I and a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins and more have benefited from the strength of their parents. 

But we, as the Transition Generation, have faced experiences our parents have not, such as a unique and foreign name in comparison to those around us, and it is those experiences which have set us apart.  A long time ago I realized writing was a good outlet for a shy girl, such as myself, and I have wanted to share my experiences with others.  I also want others to share their experiences with me; what challenges have you faced as a member of the Transition Generation, or what challenges have you seen others face?

On a regular basis I’ll be posting blogs about my experiences and, even if you are not a member of the Transition Generation, I hope you can join me and share in the conversation.

Thanks for reading


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    First generation born and raised American, and member of the Transition Generation © (aka Generation T ©). Join me as I discuss the struggles and joys I have faced as an American. What's your story?


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