“I’ve been here forty years. I think this is my country now.”
Photo: Saboohi Khan with her daughter Fariha Khan, who talks about her own experiences in another post. Photo by Jennifer Baker
My husband decided to come here from Pakistan in 1972. He was a pharmacist. We were already married and Fariha was two and a half. I had to follow him. I was confused and didn’t know where I was going to or what kind of people I would meet. I was twenty-one years old. We went to New York for one year, and then to Baltimore. He didn’t like pharmacist job, so he got a job with the pharmaceutical company Parke-Davis in Philadelphia and we bought a house in Media.
When we first came here, we came on Air France; it was a long flight, twenty-four hours. I saw people kissing in Frankford, Germany. They were saying goodbye to each other in the airport and kissing in public. It was the first time I had ever seen such a thing.
December 17, 1979, my husband passed away in a car accident. I decided to go back to Pakistan. He died in December and I moved in February. But I couldn’t stay there. Fariha was nine and her sister three. It was a hard time for her in school. She was a good student. But her teacher said she is American, she doesn’t speak right, and complained about her behavior. After three or four months, I came back again.
When I returned, I got social security. I stayed with a friend and rented an apartment. Good friends helped me to stand on my own feet, even taught me to drive. Fariha went to the same school and had the same friends. We became citizens a few years later.
Every summer we went to Pakistan. My sister is still there. After Fariha started college, it became harder to visit. Fariah’s friend often came with us in the summers. Eventually her friend and my younger brother decided to marry. They’ve been married 20 years, and she became Muslim. My parents came here for Fariha’s graduation from high school, college, and graduate school, and also, as it turned out, for her wedding.
Fariha met her husband in college, behind my back. I found out later. I was completely against it so she talked to her grandfather about it to convince me. My brother had lived in Canada since the 1960s. He wanted to meet the boy. They talked about soccer. He said to me, “Do you want your daughter to be happy?” Now, if anyone asks me which man to trust, I say my son-in-law. She was the first one in my community to marry a white person.
We planned the wedding while my parents were here. I ordered her outfit from Pakistan and it came on time. I rented a big hall and it worked out perfectly—the flowers, the catering. I believe God was with me and helped me.
When I first left, everyone was sad. There was no celebration. It was seven years before I went back again. It was hard to talk on the phone, hard to keep in touch. I’ve been here forty years. I think this is my country now. Some things I don’t like, like people living together before marriage. I was a very strict mother. No slumber parties, no dating. We do not sleep at other’s houses. I was a single mother. My girls didn’t argue.
My two daughters and their husbands came to dinner at my house every day for five years. We would tell about what we had done that day. This is how families stay close and people really get to know each other. After Fariha’s children were born, I moved in with them to help out and be closer to my grandchildren.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.