All that ‘Amreeki glitter’ may not be gold in Jackson Heights

Published: March 24, 2015
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Director Mehreen Jabbar and writer Vasay Chaudhry have done a great job up till now, unfolding the stories of the main characters. PHOTO: JACKSON HEIGHTS FACEBOOK PAGE

George Bernard Shaw said:

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.”

It is true that life can be good, it can be tough and it can, most certainly, be unpredictable. It can take a person to a whole new world. Away from his or her country, away from their loved ones.

The drama Jackson Heights, named after a neighbourhood in New York, beautifully depicted the life of a group of Pakistani immigrants. Aired on Urdu1, this particular drama struck a chord with me because of its storyline. Living in the US, it was refreshing to see this angle being taken – the usual Romeo Juliet stories were getting old anyway. To me, the stories of these immigrants were very real and relatable.

Jackson Heights is a desi corridor in the Queens borough of New York City. It is an area where you are most likely to come across Indians and Pakistanis, in abundance, along with desi restaurants, clothing shops, immigration lawyer offices, salons and cafés. Much like Devon Street in Chicago, the area is your ‘typical desi muhala’ outside Pakistan.

Director Mehreen Jabbar and writer Vasay Chaudhry have both done a fantastic job at introducing us to the lives of Imran Bhatti a local taxi driver, Michele a restaurant owner, Jamshed a young Pakistani who has come to America on a legit visa, Salma a hardworking lady who works at a salon and Sikander, Salma’s abusive husband who just wants to make quick, easy money. All these characters live or work in Jackson Heights.

Photo: Facebook page

It is a common belief in Pakistan that life in the US is very easy, very luxurious. While it may offer free education up to high school for its residents, medical assistance to the elderly, has relatively no power outage issues or shortage of water, there are many many other hurdles that immigrants in the US may have to face.

Adjusting to life in the US can be difficult for any newcomer. Learning a new language, adopting their way of life, finding a job, and the feeling of home sickness are all very real experiences you undergo. Some can take it, some can’t.

Photo: Facebook page

Mr Bhatti’s character, a Pakistani taxi driver who migrated to the US in search of a better life, has been portrayed beautifully by Noman Ijaz. He has been living in New York for 15 years and has yet to become a legal US citizen, even though he married a much older American lady to expedite the citizenship process. His daily routine is hard work during the day time and listening to the sarcastic remarks and criticisms of his wife in the evening.

On the other hand, Salma, played by Aamina Sheikh, is a hard working salon worker who migrated to the US after marrying her cousin. She is the sole breadwinner of the family – one that compromises of an abusive husband, a fussy mother-in-law and a step daughter who seems to be the only one in the family who cares about Salma. Salma is a victim of verbal and physical abuse.

Photo: Facebook page

Living in the US, I have come across many hard working immigrants who work two or even three jobs a day to survive and provide for their families back home. Many of them have been living in the suburbs of New York, Chicago or San Francisco for 15 to 20 years but are still not legal US citizens. According to a recent survey, there are approximately 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. While they may all be heroes in the eyes of their aging parents, it is very hard to imagine the hardships they must endure to make ends meet.

Photo: Facebook page

There are many women here who suffer through domestic abuse for years and go completely unnoticed. For many, this is still a foreign land and so when such form of abuse does take place, some women are unaware of how to approach the authorities who can help, some are not equipped with adequate English speaking skills and others are afraid because they are living there illegally.

Along with all these characters, there is another powerful character called Nani Ama, Mr Bhatti’s mother. She doesn’t care about money or gifts, she just wants her child to be happy. She is content in Pakistan and is not interested in going to America. Like any other mother, she prays that her son comes to visit her soon.

The last episode of this drama aired day before yesterday. The show ended on the note that nothing is as easy as it sounds, America might be one of the best countries in the world, but it’s no heaven on earth. It is a country, just like ours, full of real people with real problems.

Mr Bhatti summed it up beautifully in the beginning of the drama when he spoke about immigrants and their problems and said,

“Inn sab main aik cheez common hai, majobori. Kisi ki majboori hai behter zindagi, tou kisi ki majboori hai inkey khawb”

(All these people have one thing in common – their compulsion. For some it is the compulsion of making their lives better and for other their compulsion are their dreams.)

From afar, the other side of the grass always looks greener, but upon closer inspection, that glitter is just a glint in our own eye. Jackson Heights proves exactly that. For Pakistani’s living abroad, the stories portrayed will definitely strike a chord like they did with me, for those back home in Pakistan, it will help them view these ‘green pastures’ more realistically.

Do you think Jackson Heights correctly portrays the life of a Pakistani immigrant?

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Almas Akhtar

Almas Akhtar

The writer is a blogger, author, an ardent cricket fan, a movie buff, and an avid traveler. Her latest novella “The Fearful Lion” won an honourable mention at the 2018 New York Book Festival.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.