“Your story is not vulnerable enough.”
This was my professor’s response when I recounted my childhood growing up in Pakistan. During office hours I further inquired as to how being vulnerable was not synonymous with being honest.
Their casually cruel response to my curiosity was that when I talk about my life in Pakistan, I should highlight the hardships and, in their words, “play it up a bit.” But what if I didn’t experience any hardships in a developing country with dwindling resources? What if I’m proud of my heritage? And what if my family moved here not because life back home was horrible, but because we knew life here would be better?
Moreover, I wondered how Timmies runs and Saturday hockey practices exude sentiments of vulnerability in ways my story didn’t.
But, my usually loud and boisterous voice escaped me and I could only nod my head. With shame-coated hands I rewrote my story. My life downsized to exclusively showcase my experience as an immigrant. My childhood home in an affluent neighbourhood changed postal codes to a shabby apartment in a run-down block. Where previously my family’s move from Pakistan was a tale of simply moving on, it now became one of jilted lovers — with Canada gallantly riding in all its shiny galore.
How fucked up is that?
I deconstructed myself just so that all my pieces can perfectly fit in with the ‘immigrant’ puzzle. And as I did this, I realized a hack — a way to cheat the system. So long as I always have a sob story in my arsenal, the system would not be able to shut me out of any room.
My formula for writing any essays asking me about myself was a straightforward one — “I am the daughter of immigrant parents,” then insert stories about racism and casual xenophobia faced by my family. Because how can you be a South Asian without having had at least one encounter with a Karen?
Similarly, when the time came to apply for grad schools and write my personal statements, I knew exactly what my target schools were looking for: a perfect group of diverse people. The question you should be asking, my young Padawan, is what is the perfect group of diverse people?
This group of people represents the crème de la crème of our generation. To land yourself a spot in this highly exclusive fraternity, you need to keep in mind some rules. You must be better at everything than the other person. You must be a better victim than your competitor. You must be a better saviour than your competitor. But more importantly, your trauma better be attention worthy.
If bile is rising up in the back of your throat or your gut is churning when you think over this then you are on the right track.
I now realize that when I was given access to opportunities that were previously not available to me, I did not read the entire contract. My admission into certain parts of this society is dependent solely on my ability to tug the heartstrings of the powers that be.
While at the beginning I was complicit, I refuse to do so anymore. And so should you. We are more than our traumas — glorified for the admissions committee. But more than that, we should not want to be a part of programs that are seeking us out simply to satisfy a diversity quota.
To institutions, I want to say that you need to do better. Stop attempting to label us in categories that best suit you. If you truly wish for diversity, then let that be it. Do not attach terms and conditions to someone’s acceptance.
Yes, I am the daughter of immigrant parents, but there is so much more to me than just that.