The Life of An American
People of New York City
May 18, 2018
BYLINE: Gazi Ohi
A Street in Bayridge
Many a time, much of the immigrant story consists of newly bred, fresh-off-the-boat types of people. Though this is not the case for many New Yorkers. The other half of the immigrant story includes those who were raised in the United States. In this interview with Daveen Raas*, we learn that those who have gained citizenship and were raised in the United States have a very slight angle to the life they live that differentiates them from being a “true” immigrant and a natural-born citizen.
Daveen Raas was only three years old in Fall of 1999 when he arrived in the United States with his mother from Pakistan. With that small age gap, he did not feel the underlying pressure of being an immigrant. His mother told him that his English grew rapidly, absorbing English from cartoons and school. The English language, unlike to most immigrants over the age of ten, was not an issue to him. Being set in the American education system from the get-go allowed him to pick up English really fast. As a child, “[he] did not really feel as an immigrant.”
To Daveen, his self-realization of being an immigrant “kicked in fourth grade” or third or second grade. He said that during this age, pride developed from where the children were from or where their parents were from. Though his side of the story was unique in the sense that this pride did not lead to discrimination. Although he was “clearly not Caucasian”, he did not really find this clarity much boggling. Bayridge was, according to Daveen, an extremely diverse neighborhood. “Everyone was sorta immigrant.” Everyone did have their own culture, and fortunately, it did not cause any major problems for him in his youth.
His culture was unique, too. Though he didn’t feel immigrant, his culture and religion reminded him of it. For example, he always had to eat halal food. During lunch, he would never eat meal and instead ask for cheese sandwiches. Ramadan was another highlight, which distinguished him. He clearly remember not fasting, but that going to iftar with family was major. He did point out that he was more religious than cultural. Another point of difference he felt among New Yorkers was that unlike some grounded New Yorkers he had all of his relatives back home and it was tradition to visit Pakistan. Another part of his religion were the taught the codes of conducts. Some things weren’t okay such as cursing. However this was more the religious part of the culture as Pakistan has its share of filth. Of course, he noticed that the food he ate at home was different. He would eat curry and “biryani—that’s one difference for sure” , while Americans would eat macaroni and cheese. His home language, on the other hand, took a hard hit. Although he learned Urdu in Pakistan in three years, his mother language was never really his home language. His parents saw to him in Arabic and English. By picking up English and learning Arabic through the religion, his accent transcended into a combination of three accents: one of English, Arabic, and Urdu. Although one could tell that he is an immigrant from this new accent, in Pakistan, when he spoke Urdu in this accent it was considered a “white-washed” or “Americanized” language.
Though culture and religion stuck with Daveen, Bayridge had gone through a tremendous change. Bayridge, about twenty years ago, was still in phase of immigrant coming in. Back then there was a large Italian population. Italian mafia used to live there and Daveen could point out the houses that they used to live in. There was still a “very white” neighborhood near the Narrows river during his childhood in which he befriended is childhood best friend, a Caucasian. However, now that Bayridge gentrified there are way too many hipsters. Even under this change, Bayridge still held the largest Arab American population in New York. The sad thing about today’s immigrant demographics is that Bayridge is divided. It is almost segregated with groups of all Arabs, all Italians, all Hispanics and now small groups of mixes (random ethnicities in a pocket of the neighborhood). All the Immigrants were definitely connected with one another’s ethnicity. “Pakis were with Pakis. Arabs with Arabs. Bengalis with Bengalis.” There were cliques. Nowadays its more mixed. However, in elementary school, his school was diverse as there were only three to four Caucasians per grade—this could be due to parents sending them to private schools.
Before culture and all of that, the way his mother and father lived in the United States was certainly different than the “immigrant job struggle”. In the beginning, his mom was a babysitter (working from home) and was paid by the department of education. A Sudanese neighbor’s mom was working as a teacher. The Sudanese mom asked Daveen’s mother to babysit her children and his mom said sure with no payment and the lady said, “This is America. Whatever you do you should get paid” and Daveen’s mom gave way (to this day, Daveen still remembers his first encounter with the Sudanese family as they grew together). This unity was unique back then because Muslims in Bayridge were slightly rare so all the Muslims knew each other and interacted with each other easily. Anyway, after Daveen’s mother stopped babysitting, she quit and remained a house wife. His father, however, had a different story. He was a manager of a gas station. He Left Pakistan at 18 years of age and then went to Saudi for 13 years. He went to school in USA and got certified by his Saudi company. Ever since arriving here with that job handed to him, he has continued working with that gas company.
Daveen’s journey to adulthood was not filled with as many hardships. He entered Hunter College as a Computer Science major. Since the Computer Science major required intensive internships, job searching was a major problem he faced. It was until Junior Year that he found something. At the time, computer science students were constantly burdened with finding an internship for experience. Ironically, “Trump’s Ban on VISAs has actually helped [computer science students] a lot because it [kicked] all the visa people from India and finally [companies] took college graduates.” Although Daveen stated that he was not a supporter of Trump and that he was an immigrant, raised in America, he found that the job market was easier to go into due to Trump and it made American life easier. So when Daveen got fortunate with a full time boot camp in the NYC Tech Line program, he took two semesters off to complete it. This boot camp landed him a job in a real estate company and, comically, his acceptance to the job was due to a picture of his hair on a website. There seemed to be no ethnic favoritism displayed. Daveen stayed in the job for three months, but left because he wanted to earn more (he was offered a full time job). Having a higher degree meant higher pay so he went back to college. He currently works in an internship with the city and he “deserved to be turned away,” but he got the internship. Daveen said it was unclear if the acceptance was ethnically biased because his employer was Indian. Indians and Pakistanis shared a very similar tongue—the languages are the same, but writing systems are different.
Daveen, after these many years, realized that New York City is the place to be. Roosevelt Island is a soft spot for introverts (Daveen dislikes noise) living in a hustling, bustling city. Not just that, New York City provided an education he knew he could not find in Pakistan. The education there was “brutal” and not as credible. Even though New York City is overpopulated, expensive (in NYC you can rent a bad apartment for $5,000 a month, but in another state can rent a mansion for about $2000 a month, according to Daveen), rude, and its traffic and parking is a hassle, “New York builds and makes people” (24:06). “You can be working 6-figure job at Goldman-sachs but you still gotta take that train that everyone else does.” Other states can’t match to New York. “Texas is mad dry…New Yorkers run the show…it’s the hardships…New York has class.”
What to point out is that Daveen isn’t the typical “immigrant”. One cannot just label an immigrant as just a foreigner. They include the generation that was raised here and that generation is divided into those who adopt the New York lifestyle, adopt their parents’ culture, or a mix of New York and family culture. The problems immigrants face such as coming to the United States and settling was different than Daveen’s problem which was more of just getting by with the New York style. In similarity, all type of immigrants have to “figure things out” and learn to value the things they do have like clean water. They all go through the struggle in which they all come to these terms: “In Reality the streets raise you, not [your] parents.” New York raises each and every one of us, from the nonspeaking immigrant to the assimilated American immigrant.