I am a Canadian and a Pakistani, born in Saudi Arabia. And that makes explaining my origin story somewhat difficult at times.
My parents were Pakistani expats in Saudi Arabia when I was born there. Since the Saudis don’t give citizenship to anyone not born of Saudi parents, I was a Pakistani citizen. At 14 my family decided to move to Canada, and I ended up in a vastly different world, speaking almost no English whatsoever.
The Mirzas are a part of the Mughal clan, descending from the Mughal family that ruled India for over 300 years, who in turn descended from the Central Asian descendants of the Mongols. My family came from the Chughtai sub-clan — and if it wasn’t for my great-grandfather dropping Chughtai from his name, my last name today might well have been Chughtai, which is not terribly well-suited for pronunciation in English.
Both my parents’ families hail from the same Mughal clan and have lived in the part of Punjab that is now in Pakistan for as long as I have been able to trace back. As blacksmiths, it appears the family didn’t need to move around much and generation and generation remained in the same district of Gujrat, Punjab. That is until the generation of my parents, when my mom and dad picked up and moved to Saudi Arabia.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia
I was born in Saudi Arabia, but wasn’t a Saudi. As a Pakistani, I went to schools run by the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia, growing up almost exclusively with other Pakistani expats. My primary interaction with Saudis consisted of playground fights, soccer matches and the odd Saudi stopping the car as we were walking to say something nasty to us. So while it was the only home I knew growing up, it was never home. That turned me, and many of my friends, into patriotic Pakistanis who loved the country we had never really lived in apart from a few weeks every year during our summer vacations.
Saudi Arabia was, however, the only place I knew growing up and by all means I had a happy childhood. Coming from middle and lower-middle class backgrounds, hard work and desire to succeed was something was ingrained by my parents into us four brothers. Add to that the fact that my father was in his time a renowned student activist in Pakistan, and our desire as kids to go back to the country we so loved yet knew so little of and make a difference– and I believe that is where I learned some of the most important lessons of life. To aspire to always excel, to give back, to make a difference: these were ideas that I remember discussing with my group of friends as early as grade 4 or 5.
Moving to Canada
My parents toyed with the idea of moving to Pakistan for ages, before deciding that we had spent way too long outside the country to appropriately settle back in Pakistan. Immigration to Canada and Australia was popular among the expats in Saudi Arabia fearful of falling victim to increasing Saudiazation. So my family applied to both Canada and Australia, got approved for both, and picked Canada– the cold, dreary winters of Canada.
I arrived as a 14 year old without ever having spoken a sentence in English. We landed in Brampton, where I passed by ESL test only because part of it was written and I aced it, thanks to rote memorization of dozens of standard ‘essays’ on all sorts of odd topics (I wrote a three pager on my school in Saudi Arabia that had nothing to do with my school in Saudi Arabia, except that I had memorized it there from a standard issue textbook). I was lucky to have a couple of incredible English teachers, Mr. Atkinson and Ms. Chalmers, who spent a fair bit of time with me to help me catch up.
I found some amazing new friends, stayed in touch with the old ones, and today I have friends scattered all over the world, doing some amazing work in a wide array of different fields.