A desi’s life in America for the past 50 years

We have freedom of religion and freedom to do what we believe in

Mustafa Ahsan Siddiqui

By Mustafa Ahsan Siddiqui

Everyone dreamed of living in America. It was referred to as the land of opportunity and employment. My father, Dr. Abul Hasan Siddiqui had a similar dream. He wanted that not just for himself but for his extended family of 7 to have a better life than what he did in India.

Thus began our journey to the promised land in January 1971. We took a little longer route to America.

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My father got a job in Saudi Arabia that seemed to be very lucrative. The only problem was there was no schooling in English. Everything was in Arabic. I lived in Saudi Arabia with my family for 2 years that was a big struggle for me and my siblings. We were homeschooled and finally, my father decided to send me to America to stay with my uncle and finish my high school in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. The rest of my family joined me in January 1974, exactly one year since I came to America. My father got his job in Minnesota which is about 400 miles from Chicago.

We came to America with two suitcases each carrying all the belongings that we needed immediately. Everything else had to be purchased. From cooking pans to spoons, bedsheets, beds, cars, furniture, anything and everything needed to start a new life in a new county. We came to a land that was very different, very cold, with a totally different culture. Fortunately for us, most of us spoke English because
we learned that in India and went to English school throughout our lives so the language was not an issue. The schools here were obviously of a very high standard and the pace of education was very fast, but we got adjusted to the new system. The big difference is the culture and the weather. It was not that hard to get used to the weather but the culture is totally a different story. Our family was very heavily inclined to the Indian culture which was very different from the American culture. This made our lives a little different. We live two different lives. Outside we were American, and inside and in our hearts we are Indian. We spoke English outside and we spoke Urdu at home.

A lot has changed in the last 50 years. Some of which were good and some were not so good. When we first came here, gasoline, or what we called petrol (back home) was $0.27 per gallon. In other words, more than 3 gallons for a dollar. If you bought more than $2 worth of gasoline, we got a free car wash. If the car wash was not operational, they would throw in a box of tissue paper or even a 2 Liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Now, as of today (November 2021), gasoline is $3.25 per gallon, no free car wash, no free tissue papers, no free bottle of Coca-Cola. A 12 oz can of Coca-Cola was $0.10 each or 10 for a dollar. Now you’re lucky if you can get one for $1 so that’s about 10 times. Back then we were looked upon as foreigners and something that most people were not used to. When we first came to Minnesota, they were only four Muslim families that we used to visit. We used someone’s living room as a masjid and eventually we ended up buying one for ourselves. Now in Minnesota, there are more than 72 masjids. We were brought up to eat halal meat. It was very difficult to find a place to find halal meat and we ended up butchering goats on farms. Each goat back then, even though it was very hard to procure, cost $20. Now halaal goat meat is readily available in many local grocery stores and a whole goat can cost over $250.

Most Indians that came here and settled in the 1970s desperately tried to get themselves Americanized. They changed their names to sound more American, changed their dressing to adapt skirts and pants, and were eager to get their haircut like American women. Most Desi women cut their beautiful long hair down to a very short size to look more American. A lot of them changed their first names to sound more American. Mohammad Hanif became “Bill Hanif” and Shahida became “Shelly”.

Our family did not believe in changing our identity. We were Desis’ then and we still are. My mother wore Sari’s back then she still does that now. My wife wears Shalwar Kameez back then and she still does that now. Our three children that were born and raised in Minnesota, thank God, still fully adhere to the Desi custom and religion. They are married to Desi spouses, have their own children that still adhere to Desi customs and our religion. Yet, we compete with all our efforts and might with the Americans for a better life, a better environment, more rights as US citizens without giving up our traditions and identities. I was asked by my peers at work if I could change my name to something “simpler and more common”. When I asked them why they said that it sounded very difficult and hard to pronounce. I refused. That was my name given to me by my elders at birth. A name (Mustafa), revered by billions of Muslims around the world. Now, not only do they pronounce the name correctly, they could even spell it without my help.

We had a dark period in our American lives when 9/11 happened. We got some dirty looks from some Americans but we made an effort to teach them that we are just like them. We have the same daily issues like they do. We have families, we work for our living, we have home mortgages like them, and have the same money and safety issues. In fact, 9/11 gave us an opportunity to explain our culture and religion to the American public.

We have freedom of religion here, and freedom to do what we believe in. Nobody is forced to do something against their wishes. We don’t drink like them or eat Pork. Our religion is different than theirs. Our children not only look different but have different values than most American people. But that doesn’t make us less American. We respect the American flag and the Americans take notice. We are a minority in this country but we don’t depend on any minority quotas or special treatments. We work hard and prove to them that we are as good or better than they are. We don’t take any handouts nor do we expect any. We are proud of our Desi heritage.

Mustafa Ahsan Siddiqui (Semi-Retired: Real Estate Investor, Technology and Banking Consultant) was born and raised in Hyderabad, India till age 15. Currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the USA for the past 50 years.

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