Journey to the Americas
Waseem Akhtar’s journey to America
essay written by Muqeem Akhtar
Waseem Akhtar and his family moved from Karachi, Pakistan to America in May, 1997. He was forty eight years old, but he managed to carry the responsibility of six people on his back. He only had one thousand dollars in his pocket, he put all of his faith and hope in Allah, and managed to survive and overcome every hardship. He established his family of 7 in the country very well, and now they are normal America citizens, but they have never forgotten their culture and beliefs.
This interview was conducted on the immigration of Muhammad Waseem Akhtar. The interview took place in his home on May 25, 2009 at 4 o’clock p.m. Muqeem Akhtar, Waseem’s son, chose his father for this particular project because, first, he was the one who made the decision of migrating his family from Pakistan to America. Second, even though Muqeem was young during the time of his family’s immigration, he recalled that the journey his family took was a story to tell, and his father was the perfect one to tell it. The interview first began as just a project for Muqeem’s AP U.S. History class, but it turned into a way for the interviewer’s dad to inform other people about their immigration. The two hour interview also helped Muqeem personally learn from his father and helped him get some important points about life across to him. The main point of the projected was to express the hardships of the immigration, reasons for the big decision, and the result of the immigration to the United States.
Waseem Akhtar and his family lived in Pakistan before migrating to America. Although it was not his birthplace, he had moved from India to Oman and then to Karachi. All of my siblings, but one, were all born in Oman, but Muqeem and his sister, Asraa, were born in Karachi. The family lived in Karachi, Pakistan for about fifteen to twenty years, a “metropolitan city”1, according to Waseem Akhtar. But during the time of immigration, Karachi was in chaos. As my interviewee explained, “overall the conditions were bad, and Karachi was the main target. The conditions went from bad to worse.”2. The reason for chaos in the city was due to the changing of governments and political parties. Waseem mentioned an important fact about the assassination of president Zeyalak, which started a chain reaction, and then military forces seized control of the country. There was firing some times just a few streets away from our house. Muqeem was very young at this time so he doesn’t remember these firings and disorder because he was only 4 or 5 years old at the time, but my parents remembered clearly.
The lifestyle the family was very easy going and relaxed. “Lifestyle, education, family, everything was wonderful.”3 Waseem worked for a company which made him travel a lot, but he could not recall its name, and money was not a problem in Pakistan. His wife, Rubina Akhtar, was a teacher and all five kids attended the school at which she taught at. The school’s name was Sun Micheals. There were chauffer driven cars, a large 2 story house, and a great family to share it with, and much more. Waseem’s brother and his wife, my uncle and aunt, shared the bottom part of the house with our family. A typical day would include Waseem Akhtar going to work, Rubina Akhtar taking her children to the school she taught at, and then everyone arriving home at their own times. But lifestyle in Pakistan was very different than the lifestyle in America. Over there, people relax and don’t worry too much. But on the other hand in America, there is always something going on in an American household. The lifestyle here is very busy and stressful. But Waseem Akhtar decided to leave his easy going lifestyle of Pakistan and did what he had to do for the safety of his family.
There was only one main reason for the departure of the entire family from Karachi, Pakistan in May 1997. The Akhtar family’s safety was in jeopardy due to the political and economical disorders. And especially because Waseem Akhtar had to travel a lot for his job, he did not feel comfortable leaving his family for days in an unsafe environment. “Basically kids. I never had any problems with living in Pakistan. But the future of my kids was unsafe because of the disturbance in the area.”4 He put the family first and didn’t care for what he wanted, and his children were the most important thing to him. He did not want them growing up, and going through turmoil. He also wanted his children to have a good life. America provided a great opportunity for education, security, and a better life altogether. But the only expectations Waseem had of America were to get all of his children educated well, earn great jobs, and get happily married and begin their own adult lives on their own. “Truly speaking, I was never scared to come to America.5” Waseem Akhtar knew what he was doing, he knew what to expect, and he planned his immigration from the time he got the paperwork to migrate, until the actual migration date. And California was the place he decided to live. He expected California to have the nicest weather so his children could adapt to it easier. And he knew California was at its peak of the economic market. Waseem Akhtar had been to America before for vacation, with my oldest sister and mother, so he knew how he would conduct himself in American societies.
But all of Waseem Akhtar’s planning did not help him leave Pakistan with everything he had worked for. The family had to leave behind our huge house, cars, properties, investments, and more. They were starting a brand new life over again. “The times were so bad that I didn’t have time to cash in my real estate. That was the biggest problem I had to face. You have to make choices, what your priorities are. My priority was to take my family out of Pakistan for their safety and I didn’t even think about finances or property.”6 Everything was left behind, abandoned, and untouched. Although Waseem visited Pakistan later on, his property was still as it was. Besides the property and wealth, memories, relatives and friends were left behind. Although money was a big issue, loved ones were harder to separate from. Waseem Akhtar and his family left behind cousins, neighbors, uncles and aunts, and best friends. “I never left my faith, morals, hardships, I knew I have to work hard, but I did leave my relatives and culture. Everybody was crying when we left. And I explained this to my children. When you come back to Pakistan, do something nice for these people, do something kind, get educated from America.”7 Waseem did not forget where he came from, and what people supported his migration, and he did not want his children to forget them either.
The journey itself began three or four months before the real migration date. First Waseem Akhtar had to acquire paperwork for our passports. “I took seven people to Islamabad from Karachi, and got a hotel for those three or four days, because your guys’ comfort was my priority.”8 Waseem spent a lot of money just for his family. Transporting seven people from place to place was very difficult to do, especially because three of the kids were under t he age of thirteen, and two were seventeen and nineteen. But Waseem Akhtar began his planning after he got the paperwork and the embassy had given him three to four months to migrate and get out of the country. “Out of one thousand dollars I spent two hundred and fifty dollars in Houston.”9 Waseem Akhtar only had one thousand dollars in his pocket when he left the airport of Karachi. His wife, Rubina, was unaware of the fact that they only had one thousand dollars to survive in America. Waseem did not want to inform her about this because he didn’t want her to stress over financial problems. Waseem Akhtar said in his interview, “I can write a book…settling down in America without any money. I can write a book.”10 We sat on the flight from Karachi to Dubai, India, and our entire family was dead asleep. “I was just thinking, so what’s next? What is next?”11 He was the only one awake, planning his next move. The total time in the airplane was about 24 hours, or more, for what Muqeem can remember. From Dubai they flew to London, but did not even get off the plane to see family that lived there. Waseem had a set plan, and he was sticking to it. He first wanted to see his sister-n-law in Houston to thank her for sponsoring the family so they could come to America. Without her help the family would not be able to migrate. The Akhtars then split up at that point. Waseem, his wife, my sister and I left for California, and my other 2 sisters and brother stayed in Houston with my aunt because we didn’t have enough money for seven plane tickets. My parents began to work so we could reunite and get our family back together as soon as possible. The family lived with Rubina’s brother, Rayhan, in California for two months and then Waseem decided to live in Irvine. This was the journey from Karachi, Pakistan all the way to the United States of America.
“In Pakistan, there are only swimming pools in the backyard, four feet or five feet. And now coming to America, it is an ocean. Now you have to learn how to swim or else you will drown. There are sharks in there, deep water, if you don’t know how to swim, then you are gone.”12 This is how Waseem Akhtar compared Pakistan and America to each other. And this was also his first impression of America. Coming from a third world country to the great superpower was a big step. “The people in America are very straight forward.”13 America was very clean and well organized. To Waseem Akhtar, the lifestyle of America was never difficult to get used too. He is a man that can adapt to any place in a short period of time. “Hard work is all you need”14, is what he said. That is how he fit into the American society and his family followed his teachings and role.
The largest difficulty to come over was money. The Akhtar’s did not have any money to buy a car, a house, or anything. While the family lived with Rayhan, Muqeem’s uncle, the first small hardship for Waseem Akhtar was overcome. He got his license thanks to uncle Rayhan. Waseem had failed his first 3 written tests for his license, and finally he passed after reading the DMV Driver’s Handbook. He learned that things are made, the drivers handbook, to help a person achieve. That was his first lesson, and he passed it on to his children. Then in a little while, Waseem began looking at apartments, and the city of Irvine caught his eye. “Your uncle was so against me, and he said, you don’t even have a job! How will you survive? And I said no big deal. I just have to work hard and leave the rest to Allah.”15 Without any money, he managed to settle his family down in the most expensive city and start his new life. The apartment was a perfect location for his family because Irvine High School, Venado Middle School, and Greentree Elementary were all near the apartment. Waseem found his first job at a Chevron gas station, and his wife worked for Mrs. Fields Cookies. This played a big part in the family’s life here in America because it helped them get onto their feet financially. Waseem Akhtar bought his own Mrs. Fields Cookies store on the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Culver Drive. Waseem, Rubina, and the children all worked for this store for about six years. “We were known in Irvine as the Mrs. Fields people.”16 My father put so much work into this business that it flourished. But Waseem was done working for it; it was too much work for little income. But it made the family financially stronger, and more experienced and well established in the community.
After a few years the family began establishing American habits and culture. Although the family was in America, they never forgot their culture and beliefs from Pakistan. Religion played a large roll in our family and household. Waseem Akhtar raised his children with love, but also a lot of strictness. Since childhood, he taught his children hard work, focus, and appreciation for everything they have. Waseem Akhtar also gave a lot of credit to his wife during the interview for raising her children in such a different environment. But one thing worried him. “Choosing a friend is a difficult thing. I have been through all these phases… you could choose somebody from a good family and a nice boy, or you could choose a boy from a good family but is a spoiled brat. And accordingly you get into a big mess.”17 Waseem Akhtar did not want Muqeem and his siblings have friends who changed them. Another lesson he taught them was to stay united as a family. Having a big family made the immigration difficult, but as they all got older, the large family was a great advantage. Waseem has never regretted any decisions. He was very proud of his children when they worked hard in school. His daughter Asraa graduated from Irvine High School first as an honors student. And then two of his other children also graduated from Irvine High one year after the other, and now Muqeem is the last one. “Most of my decisions were right. The biggest decision was to give one of my children to my sister. Moving to America, I never regret…”18 The happiest and most important events which took place in America were the marriages of his three daughters. The greatest part of Waseem Akhtar’s achievement was to have their daughters marry great guys. The family expanded to 11 people and is now very much still united. The most important advice Waseem Akhtar gave to his children was, “be a good human being. There is nothing I can advise my children because it is in the book (Quran).”19
Waseem Akhtar believed in Allah, god, and his immigration to America with nothing turned into a very satisfying life in a new land. He kept faith and supported his children no matter what. Through hard work and determination, he took a family of seven, brought them to America with only one thousand dollars, established a household, a business, and got his kids the best education and lifestyle. Now he is living in San Jose, away from his family so he can make more money to support his family still. He arrived in America at age forty eight and now he is at the age of sixty and hopes to go back permanently one day after everyone in the family has left the family house and is on their own way. This interview taught Muqeem more than just the history of his family and how they ended up in America, it also showed him the meaning of hard work. The decisions Waseem made in his life time were not only for him, but for 6 other people. This interview made Muqeem realize how much his father did for his family. Although his father was very strict towards them, his intentions were great, and they have produced 5 very well behaving and successful children.
1.Waseem, Akhtar, Personal Interview, 25 May 2009, 1
2.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 1
3.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 1
4.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 1
5.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 2
6.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 2
7.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 3
8.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 4
9.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 4
10.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 2
11.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 5
12.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 10
13.Waseem, Akhtar, Phone Interview, 25 May 2009, 11
14.Waseem, Akhtar, Phone Interview, 26 May 2009, 7
15.Waseem, 26 May 2009, 5
16.Waseem, 26 May 2009, 7
17.Waseem, 26 May 2009, 8
18.Waseem, Akhtar, Personal Interview, 25 May 2009, 9
19.Waseem, 25 May 2009, 11