“My job here is to help you become American, and as such I want to make the journey as easy, accessible, and entertaining as possible.”
With humor, Pakistan-American writer and political commentator Wajahat Ali tells the story of growing up in America in his funny and heart-wrenching new memoir, “Go Back To Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on Becoming American.”
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Ali, who wrote “The Domestic Crusaders” and is a frequent commentator on CNN and MSNBC, uses tongue-in-cheek humor and what he calls “booby-trapping” stereotypes to investigate the vexed history of America’s relationship with Muslims, immigrants and people of color.
“I think the pandemic prompted me to finally do it. Surviving the pandemic, surviving (5-year-old daughter) Nusayba’s cancer and having the mileage of 40 years to look at what was happening in the country,” Ali told SF Chronicle.
“In Islam, wisdom is supposed to descend at 40. In my case, while I didn’t see wisdom descending, I thought that my very personal story could be used as a Trojan horse for my commentary about America and where it’s been and where it’s going.”
9/11 New World
He recalled his overnight political awakening following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which struck when he was a UC Berkeley undergraduate.
In an instant, Ali was “transformed into an accidental activist.” His loyalty was questioned, and his citizenship suddenly felt conditional.
“I will never, ever be ‘moderate enough,’ ” he writes, “because despite doing everything right, we (Muslim Americans) are still seen as suspects and not as complex, diverse, strange, funny, hypocritical human beings.”
“9/11 was my total political awakening. For my generation, there was a pre-9/11 and a post-9/11, and it was totally exhausting. I was 20 and suddenly expected to be the expert on all things Muslim, the walking Muslim Wikipedia, a global representative for 1.8 billion people,” Ali said.
“People forget that anyone who looked Muslim was immediately under assault. The first hate crime (post-9/11) was against Balbir Singh, a Sikh man. It was such a scary time in America that hijabi women born and raised in America were afraid to go to school. This country went crazy. They banned “Imagine” by John Lennon. They renamed french fries “freedom fries”!”