The road went ever on and led me here.
Considering the limited view I had of the South, it’s a wonder I moved to Georgia from Pennsylvania four years ago. Who could have guessed I would experience the most growth of my life in this place? As a visitor, I partied like a rock star. As a resident, I meditate like a monk. In the process, I became a proud, damn Yankee, although it took me a while to get here.
Three years after moving to the South, I learned the difference between a Yankee and a damn Yankee. They’re both from the North, but the damn Yankee makes a home here as I have done.
Before I was even a Yankee, I was a member of the first South Asian family to move to a small town outside of Philadelphia in the 70s. I grew up keenly aware of my brownness. Until the fourth grade, I was the only person of color in a classroom.
Being the only Muslims in a town of Christians and Jews added to the dubious distinction of otherness. I grew up with people around me struggling with the idea that Indians from India and Native Americans were two different groups.
When more of us moved into town, I had more to explain. When a random stranger asked me if my family owned a 7–11, I had to tell him not all of us were related.
Since I’m not a confrontational person, I learned to deal with the jolt in my stomach when people asked me questions like that or made other nonsensical statements that they wouldn’t make to someone who looked like them.
People don’t know what they don’t know.
How presumptions get started
People made presumptions about me because of their lack of familiarity with someone who isn’t Caucasian but isn’t African-American either. But once they wrapped their brains around me not being African-American or Native American, they settled in.
While they had their presumptions, without me being aware of it, I had mine.
Mine related to the South.
Before I was 20 years old, my experience with the South was what I saw on television or movies or what I studied in history, which mainly boils down to slavery and the Civil…