My father, the Pakistani Elvis

Now, when he practices guitar, he focuses on musicians he calls “the Original Elvises,” like Buddy Guy, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker. As a Muslim, he finds comfort in Southern Black gospel music and knows more of the words to those hallowed songs than he knows verses of the Quran. He sang while sculpting a life for us:

The beasts from the wild shall be lit by a child
And I’ll be changed
Changed from this creature that I am, oh, yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, some day.

Originally written for Mahalia Jackson by Thomas A. Dorsey, an African American gospel and blues musician, “Peace in the Valley” was later covered by Elvis. Over the years, my dad has broadened his musical tastes, and he now understands that Elvis wouldn’t have existed without Black musicians. At 80 years old, he no longer performs as frequently as he once did.

As he watches his grandchildren grow, my father still hums Elvis songs, but he also now radiates with pride when we speak Urdu. I recently asked him why he had been so intent on severing his children from their heritage. “I was trying to make a life, not a political statement,” he said. It was not the heroic insight I sought.

I understood only after Sept. 11, 2001, when I was subjected to death threats and insults. During medical-school interviews, I was asked whether I would wear a burqa and whether my father taught me how to make bombs. I was told I was the reason women were stoned. My father had gotten it right. We had to perform: play up our Texas drawl, present ourselves as innocuous, hard-working immigrants who showed gratitude and bury our heritage deep in the ocean my father had crossed.

I am similarly obsessed with a Southern visionary rooted in gospel music, a transformative enigma who stirs my spirit, someone also with Louisiana and Texas roots, who taps into her own charisma and work ethic to reclaim the American dream, except she did not have to rely on being white and male: Beyoncé. I saw her live for the first time at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and my infatuation began.

Whereas Elvis’s music moved people like me aside, Beyoncé thunders on our behalf — “Move out the way,” she sings — cementing the idea that we will take up space because, as Langston Hughes wrote, we, too, are America. Her indelible impact speaks to Black women but also to women like me: those pushed to the margins. My father still performs his impersonations, and I now hold makeshift Beyoncé, Nina Simone and Erykah Badu concerts in the living room with my daughter.

Source link

Leave a Comment

Exit mobile version