Wajahat Ali’s Go Back to Where You Came From and Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American is an enormously readable punch in the gut. Ali is a gifted storyteller. He dissects his life and the world around him with a fine scalpel. He is funny, smarter than me, and can make me look at the ugly underbelly while I’m laughing until I’m not laughing anymore.
As I told an earlier fan, I would love to move back to my ancestral land of the Bay Area, California, but only if you can help subsidize my rent.
Go Back to Where You Came From is a memoir in which he expertly weaves the personal and the political. Ali grew up in the Bay Area. His parents immigrated from Pakistan. He talks about his own experience, contextualizing it with the larger cultural and political landscape. When talking about the pursuit of Whiteness, he includes some history of US immigration policies and the trauma of British colonial rule. He was often the token brown kid, or the token Muslim, while also surrounded by a community Pakistani Americans. And when he finally gets to revel in being one of many in college, 9/11 happens and suddenly he is a spokes person for a whole group.
Racism flattens individuals and lumps people together, removing nuance. Ali adds the nuance back into the discourse. He shines a light on the texture and separates out the differences. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a book. It starts with humor and ends with hope, and is full of wisdom and pop culture references. There is also rage, grief, and the exhaustion of fighting off the racism all around. I can’t possibly do justice to this book. It’s an experience you should go into with less information and an open heart.
Or as Wajahat Ali would say, “Invest in hope, but tie your camel first.”
Thank you to W.W. Norton and Company and NetGalley for the advance reader copy. My opinions are my own.