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First Days: ‘I Only Wanted to Go to New York.’

Image: Tariq Abbas

First Days is a weekly series in partnership with the South Asian American Digital Archive, documenting the first-person stories of immigrant America. This week, the story of Tariq Abbas - who left Lahore, Pakistan for Dallas, Texas in 1959 - as told to his daughter, Amber Abbas.

Tariq Abbas, pictured in Lahore, Pakistan, shared his story about moving to Dallas, Texas in 1959 with his daughter, Amber Abbas. Tariq Abbas passed away in November 2013. Courtesy Amber Abbas

"I had no idea where Dallas was! In fact, after I was selected [for the American Field Service foreign exchange program], I went back and asked them, 'What is this Dallas place?' Because we had only heard of New York and San Francisco and maybe Washington, D.C. That lady, she was very nice, she showed me on the map where Dallas was. I had no concept of what Dallas was. I only knew of New York. I only wanted to go to New York. I was kind of disappointed when they said I was going to Dallas. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had no idea, no concept of what to expect or where I was going.

[The Weeks family, my hosts] picked me up at the airport and we went home. I went to bed and woke up the next morning and the dog was licking my face! [They] had a dog, Mac. And Mac was just licking my face and I was just disgusted. This dog! Anyway, so that was my—(laughs)—my first experience."

Tariq Abbas with his host brother, Paul Weeks in Dallas, 1960. Courtesy Amber Abbas

"But then after that, I did have trouble with the food, adjusting to the food. I could not take mashed potatoes! Mashed potatoes! If you’ve never had any mashed potatoes in your life, let me tell you they are the worst tasting thing in the world! They are just like glue, for eating. It is something you have to get used to. I really didn’t like mashed potatoes at all. It took me a long time to get adjusted to mashed potatoes. And I loved hamburgers and we went out for picnics and such and Mr. Weeks would fix hamburgers. That was my favorite food. And grilled cheese sandwiches. I ate grilled cheese sandwiches for a long time. And hamburgers. Hamburgers were great."

Cynthia and Tariq Abbas with Tariq's former host parents Barbara and Ray Weeks in Arlington, VA. Courtesy Amber Abbas
Barbara Weeks (Tariq Abbas’ host mother):

"It was quite an experience because Dallas, especially where we lived [in Highland Park], there wasn’t a black person of any color. [The American Field Service] talked to us and said, 'This could be a little bit of a problem of people accepting a student.' We didn’t know how dark Tariq was. And we said, 'Well, we’ll take the chance.' We went over to the swimming pool and talked to the manager and told him Tariq was coming and was going to be part of our family, so he could use the swimming pool… I’ll never forget when Tariq arrived that day. We lived in a lovely house on the corner of a block and [our daughter] was in fourth or fifth grade, and she had a friend whose mother was a bit American Indian and in the summer she would darken quite a bit. We picked up Tariq at the airport and all the neighbors had gathered, they couldn’t wait to meet him! And the first thing Tariq said to me was, 'She’s darker than I am!' I thought that was so cute. I guess he worried about it too.

The thing that worried me was I knew he came from a family that had servants. We didn’t have any! I had a cleaning lady who came once every two weeks. I painted the house I did all these things. He’s going to think, what kind of a woman am I? It was a shock for him too, to see his mother on a ladder.

The food was a challenge. He liked his food spicier, and we didn’t have spicy food. Our cooking was so bland. At first he adhered to the month of Ramadan. He tried very hard because he said his mother would want him to do this. That was the hardest thing for me. It was awful for him, because it wasn’t our schedule at all. He had to eat before sunrise and eat after sundown. Of course, that was after we had eaten, and oh, the smell of food in the house. I really suffered for him. Especially on Sundays, when I usually made leg of lamb. And you know that wonderful smell? And finally he gave it up. He loved leg of lamb."

Tariq Abbas with his daughter, Amber Abbas, and host mother Barbara Weeks in Austin, Texas 2012. Courtesy Amber Abbas

Read the original story, and more like it, here. You can also submit your own story or interview your parents or friends about theirs. Your story may be featured here during Asian American Heritage Month in May.