“Go back to where you came from, you terrorist!”
This is just one of the many warm, lovely, and helpful tips that Wajahat Ali and other children of immigrants receive on a daily basis. Go back where, exactly? Fremont, California, where he grew up, but is now an unaffordable place to live? Or Pakistan, the country his parents left behind a half-century ago?
Growing up living the suburban American dream, young Wajahat devoured comic books (devoid of brown superheroes) and fielded well-intentioned advice from uncles and aunties. (“Become a doctor!”) He had turmeric stains under his fingernails, was accident-prone, suffered from OCD, and wore Husky pants, but he was as American as his neighbors, with roots all over the world. Then, while Ali was studying at University of California, Berkeley, 9/11 happened. Muslims replaced communists as America’s enemy #1, and he became an accidental spokesman and ambassador of all ordinary, unthreatening things Muslim-y.
Now a middle-aged dad, Ali has become one of the foremost and funniest public intellectuals in America. In Go Back to Where You Came From, he tackles the dangers of Islamophobia, white supremacy, and chocolate hummus, peppering personal stories with astute insights into national security, immigration, and pop culture. In this refreshingly bold, hopeful, and uproarious memoir, Ali offers indispensable lessons for cultivating a more compassionate, inclusive, and delicious America.
Ali (The Domestic Crusaders), a New York Times contributing writer, pairs searing humor with personal experiences to address xenophobia in America. The son of Pakistani immigrants, Ali grew up in California's Bay Area and here repurposes the racist insults he's weathered all his life (the book's title being a common refrain) to convey difficult truths about America. He uses the term "THE WHITENESS" to refer to both blatant and subtle forms of racism, and humorously compares trying to confront bigotry in the U.S. to an episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a plane passenger tries to warn others the plane is being attacked by goblins, only to be taken away in a straitjacket. Elsewhere, Ali reflects on the life-altering moment the Twin Towers fell, his first "political awakening," while he was in college, and describes the impact of the media's portrayal of Muslims as angry terrorists while arguing that, conversely, the top domestic terror threat that needs to be addressed in America is white supremacy. To capture the gravity of his subject, he shares a conversation with his father, who felt compelled to research safe places outside the U.S. for Muslims to live if Trump won the 2020 election. Though Ali fears such a place may not exist, he chooses to "invest in hope" for a more inclusive America. This rousing reflection will encourage readers to do the same.
Insightful, hilarious, poignant.
I feel like I read the book of a big brother. Someone whose life closely resembled mine and the inner workings of that mind shaped by growing up as an ethnic outcast in America. There are many reasons to become sad when reading his story, but he invited an optimism with his humor to keep reading. I do hope to join his version of avengers and pursue a more literal career path as he did. Thank you for the inspiration!