The gold sling-back pumps might be appropriate for an elaborate wedding in Pakistan, but in Canada, Saima Hussain totters on the four-inch heels. Her parents sacrificed a life of ease to bring her to Canada. Shouldn’t she reward their struggle by becoming an engineer or scientist? Instead, Saima Hussain becomes a writer. Can the gold shoes that glitter like a trophy satisfy their expectations?
It’s okay, you can say it. I’ve been saying the same thing to myself for a while now: What in the world were you thinking buying those shoes? Glittering, golden, peep-toe, sling-back pumps with four-inch heels. They had seemed like a good idea in the Nine West store at the outlet mall. I could imagine myself wearing them with jeans in the evening in Canada or at one of those elaborate four-day weddings in Pakistan. The only part I didn’t think through is how I was going to walk in those things when I could barely manage to stand up straight in them.
Those shoes are as bright as the future my parents had envisioned for me when they applied for immigration to Canada. As soon as the acceptance letter arrived, my parents packed up our large house in Karachi, said farewell to their friends and families as well as our gardener, cook, housekeeper—and chauffeur, and moved us into a condo in Toronto—one that was close enough for me to commute to U of T while living in the comfort of home. Doing laundry and cleaning up after dinner took some getting used to, but they gladly did it, they said, to “give our children better opportunities in life.”
That sentiment is, in fact, lovely, even noble, but it puts a burden on the offspring to justify the struggle of their parents to overcome the pains of immigration. Justifying that struggle is usually impossible, even more so when the offspring is arming herself with an honours degree in English as I was. “There’s still time for you to switch to something useful,” my mother would regularly nudge me. This meant engineering, business, or something involving the sciences, all subjects that Amme and Abbu could brag about to other Pakistani immigrant parents.
They managed to drum up some enthusiasm when my first book was published, but they reminded me that the right time to do this writing thing is after I retire. They even offered incentives: “We would be happy to pay for law school if you want to go.” Now that a second book is close to publication, they’ve given up any hope of a “proper” career but grudgingly accept my job at the central library as somewhat real.
What my parents craved was for me to win a shiny trophy, in other words, a fancy title in a world-renowned organization with an impressive salary package. Only a job like that would appease their constant need to weigh my successes against their sacrifices. And only that would make moving to Canada worth it—for them. For a while, I gave in to that line of thinking. I kept count of the milestones I achieved along the way, but they weren’t coming fast enough or weren’t significant enough. I felt endless pressure to excel, to do more, and do better to win that trophy for them.
“These are your trophy shoes,” exclaimed Yuli when I showed our Shoe Project group my golden shoes for the first time. I had never thought of them that way, but of course, she was right. Gleaming brightly, the shoes look ironically like the trophy that I no longer need or want—because one fine day, I finally decided to let go of the burden to prove anything to anyone. I gave myself permission to relax and enjoy this amazing journey I’m on.
That’s why when I recently went to interview for a more senior position at the library, I strode into the room wearing my comfortable purple sneakers.
“Nice shoes,” the interviewer said as he put forth his own sneaker‐clad foot. Needless to say, I got the job.
SAIMA HUSSAIN earned an honours BA in English and History and an MA in South Asian Studies from the University of Toronto. She has produced a history book for young readers, The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations and Amazing Facts (Annick Press, 2013) and The Muslimah Who Fell to Earth: Personal Stories by Canadian Muslim Women (Mawenzi House, 2016). Saima is actively involved in arts and community projects, and she currently works at the Mississauga Library.
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