Atiq and Amina Khan


As Interviewed By Zayd Vlach, March 13, 2016

Amina and Atiq Khan: In Their Own Words

First let's just get a little bit of the background information. So, Nana and Nani, please state your full name and where you were born and when you were born.

Nana: My name is Atiq Ahmed Khan. Born in India, 1944. I have two Masters in Chemistry, one from Pakistan and one from New York, NYU. Then I did an MBA specializing in Marketing. The program started at NYU, but I finished my degree at IONA College in New Rochelle in 1977. My father's name was Nasir Ahmed Khan. He was in police services in India. Whereas my mom, she was a housewife. Her name was Farida Begum, and she lived until 1998.

Nani: My name is Amina Khan. I was born in India -- Aligarh -- in 1947. Then we migrated to East Pakistan, which is Bangladesh now, and lived there for 21 years. And then I migrated to Karachi, Pakistan. I lived there for 2 years and got married and came to the United States in 1972 -- November. I have a BA Honors in Economics from Dhaka University. And I did my Montessori training in 1989. And then I was a teacher for 25 years, and retired in 2007. My father, Akhtar Hameed Khan, was in the Indian Civil Service. In 1970, he moved to Karachi, Pakistan after Bangladesh, and he started his program there, which is called the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). OPP helped the poor -- the refugees, which migrated from East Pakistan to West. My mother, Hamida Khan, was a businesswoman and a housewife. And, she had her own weaving and printing factory helping the poor.

Nana: I came to America because after I finished my Masters with Distinction I was planning for a position in Pakistan. But every position I applied there was discrimination against me because I was not part of the "Son of Soil" theory of Pakistan. And I didn't have major connections so to speak -- to go through “back door” connections -- to seek a good position. I joined an English company in 1965, after teaching one year in a girls' college. I worked from 1965 through 1967, prior to coming to NYU in '67.

Nani: Our neighborhood in America was a middle class neighborhood -- mostly white people. I think we were the only brown people there. So, in the beginning it was hard, but we had a good time. The kids made friends. They went to school and we had a beautiful house. Everything was good. And then we sold that house and we moved to another house in Stormville.

So, will you tell me, if you can remember any racial inequalities that you faced in Carmel or Stormville?

Nani: Sometimes Saba would get down from the bus and she would be crying. And I went a few times to the school, so there was some... She was the only brown kid. But when we were staying there or going out or meeting people or meeting the neighbors -- the neighbors were very nice. We never felt like there was any kind of discrimination, but Saba did feel some in school. It was very hard for her, although it got much better later on. I would say it was rough for Saba to experience that, and as a parent we didn't feel what was happening in school.

Nana: Saba, keep in mind, Saba being our oldest daughter…

Nani: When I took your Amma (mom) to the first school, which was Brewster Co-Op, I was very nervous because she only knew Urdu. And I sat outside and sort of asked the teacher, and she said children usually do not talk that much when they are that young. She was about 4 years old. So, within a week your Amma started...

Nana: Communicating.

Nani: She learned English pretty fast. Whatever her needs are -- like, "I have to go to the bathroom" or "I want that..." She learned that pretty fast. And then after like a few months she was fine. She had no issues of the language because I used to take them to the park, and there were children all around speaking English.

Nana: We spoke in Urdu at home. We still do that. But English is the primary language.

Nani: English became more and more as we stayed longer -- you know as the time passed on. So, when Sadaf went to school she had no issues of the language because Saba was there, and they were communicating in English. So, that's what happened.

Nani: I don't have problem with Urdu or English. But, we talk more English than we talk Urdu. Now when we talk to the children, we talk all English. Even your Amma and your Khalas [Aunts] -- we all talk in English now. Sadaf tries to talk in Urdu. I talk more in Urdu, like if I am talking to my friends. Once in a while we will all in English.

Nana: We are talking English, then we will switch to Urdu -- we will switch to English.

Nani: Our friends -- They have the same [language patterns]...they have been living here so long. They have the same -- everyone has the same. And people who work -- they talk English all day.

Nani: We changed the dress code [in America] for me -- not for Nana, but for me. We wore a different dress. But as far as I think the values and the religious beliefs -- that is still the same. So...

Nana: The cultural value system remains the same.

Nani: Because my father was a very moderate man. So, he believed in all of the religions. There is a good in all of the religions. So, he didn't really have any -- but you know basically we kept -- we tried to keep -- and I think that is what we do here.

Nana: In my opinion I am a Muslim because I was born in a Muslim family. [It is] nothing more than that. Even today, when I am home, I go on Fridays for my prayers. It is a holy day for us. Besides that -- nothing else.

So, do you consider your home to be in America?

Nana: My home is America. I came here in 1967. I was 23 years old. I have lived here now almost 49 years. America is home. I have Indian heritage. I am proud of my Indian heritage because I was born in India. I grew up in India. I got all my basic education in India. I did my BA in India. And India has taught me three things: respect for humans is utmost; India has taught me tolerance; and last, but not the least, dignity of people.

Nani: It was hard. It was very hard for me in the beginning when I came because my father used to come to America all the time. He was the visiting professor. He has taught in different universities. He used to tease me that I want to take you to America, and I used to tell him I never I want to go to America. It was very hard, but now after living here for 43 years. This is home for me because there is nobody left in Pakistan. I miss it sometimes. But now I really do not have the desire to go back because my family is in Canada, my brothers and my sisters. My children are here -- their children are here. So, this is home for me. I have no feeling of going back. I miss -- sometimes I miss the culture. I miss the old times, like when I was growing up, but that's all it is. But this is home.

Thank you very much. Let's just have one final question. What are your dreams and visions for Muslims in America?

Nana: It is a very important question. There are about 3.5 million Muslims living in America today. They are Muslims living in the Dearborn, Michigan area for the last 100 years. They came from Arab world. I strongly believe that Muslims have very bright future and productive future. And they will be positive contributors to the US economy and well being. They will come as doctors, as professors, lawyers, and managers. They have two things for them because Muslims are very disciplined people and family oriented. And, second, they are very focused towards the education. I hope and I believe they represent a bright future for them in America and in the West. And I think that the extremism will die sooner than later.

Nani: I think the next generation -- like your Amma's generation and your generation -- I think you all will do well. You will not have any baggage. This will be your country. You will be contributing to this country. I don't know how much religion will play a part in your life, but I personally think people who are growing up now in this country -- they are going to do OK.