Crowds of twenty-somethings stream in and out of the bars on Cleveland’s West Side. Car brakes screech and their drivers honk as brewery patrons weave across Carnegie Avenue in front of the West Side Market. Women, dressed in tights, tall boots and short, stylish jackets, chat with men who stand outside smoking. Out for a walk with her dog on this Saturday night, Hafsa Khan pulls her dupata, a traditional Pakistani scarf, more tightly around her head to guard against the January cold. Painted fingernails peek out from beneath her oversized leopard-print coat. The cold Cleveland pavement is a far cry from the warm, dusty streets of their native Karachi. However, her sister Aasma says that her daily experience here is not much different than the one she left in Pakistan. The girls’ lives are still defined by their roles in the home: cooking, cleaning and spending time with family. But women walking on the streets at night without a male relative as an escort is different. Aasma explains, “In Pakistan, we take the bus, we put on the hijab and burqa. [If] we come back maybe late in the night, it’s a trouble thing.”
When the girls’ father Saleem moved to the United States over 20 years ago, his sole purpose was to provide better opportunities for his four children. Now, after being in the U.S. for nearly two years, Aasma and Hafsa are no longer phased by the everyday differences they experience in navigating a society that is often vastly different than the one in which they grew up. However as they redefine their own personal goals, identity and ideas about home, they must continually balance between two countries and two cultures.
Hafsa tries on a veil that will be used on a mannequin for window displays at Tower City Mall that her stepmom Amie Gilroy designs.
Hafsa, right, and Aasma, center, move props to help their stepmom create window displays at Tower City Mall in order to earn extra money.
Aasma takes a break from helping to design window displays at Tower City Mall.
Amie believes that if she and Saleem were to suddenly disappear, Aasma would be the only one of the four siblings to truly thrive. Aasma has a quiet strength and stoicism about her. She is also practical about her future. She began studying science in Pakistan and would like to become a medical assistant or a nurse. "In this field, I have money and benefits, a lot of things."
Although Muslim faith dictates that devout observers should pray five times a day, Aasma and Hafsa pray only before bed and rarely attend services at the local mosque.
Saleem, right, has spent the better part of his life trying to give his children the opportunities that he did not have. At the same time, he understands that it is up to them how they use these opportunities. Saleem explains, "Sometimes kids are very devoted and they don't let their parents down. But sometimes, most of the time, they say 'I will do whatever I feel. Why should I spend my life for your dreams.'"
Since their apartment is so small, the family does not have the space for a dining room table. Most nights they eat on the floor. Aasma lays out two different versions of biryani, including one specifically prepared for Amie that is less spicy.
“When it’s an arranged marriage, it’s two families involved in that,” Aasma explains. Hafsa continues, “My personal thing is that arranged marriage is good because father and mom know how the other family is good and bad. They decide what is good for us and we agree and [we’re] married." The emphasis on family in Pakistani culture means that marriage not only affects two individuals but their extended families as well.
Despite the 10 hour time difference between Cleveland and Karachi, the family skypes almost daily. The scene on the computer screen is taking place thousands of miles away where Yasir’s wife Miriam is currently living with her mother-in-law. Miriam holds up Yasir’s eight-month-old son, Rahid, who Yasir, second from left, has never met in person.
Hafsa walks past Cleveland's West Side Market. The waves of immigrants to the Cleveland area have shaped the market in many ways. A sign written in Arabic hangs from one stand declaring that, “Halal meat is sold here.” The stand began to sell halal meat nearly 30 years ago in response to the growing demand of Muslim clients at the market.
Hafsa, Saleem’s youngest child at 21, lives in a world where her identity and her future may not be limited by physical location or practical concerns. She lives in a world where she can dream herself into a Bollywood movie. “Everyday I start dreaming. Everyday it’s different,” Hafsa explains. Today she is dreaming about becoming a beautician.
Hafsa was just 20 days old when Saleem moved to the United States. Yet, she seems to hold the family together in her own way. They often tease her, but the comic relief that such joking provides seems to lighten the mood. One nickname that has stuck is “Miss Citizen.” Because Hafsa first arrived in the United States as the underage daughter of an American citizen, she was automatically granted citizenship. Hafsa and Saleem voted together for the first time in the 2008 presidential election and she is fully aware of the opportunity she now has to create her own dream, whatever that may be.