My name is Tariq Akmal.
INTERVIEWED BY Sindya N. Bhanoo x 9

"…what I was smelling was the deodorizer that was used in the floors and the concourses… I thought that this is what America smells like."

Lahore, Pakistan

Pullman, Washington



Palo Alto, California



I remember landing in Chicago at O'Hare airport. It's a huge, huge airport. I've been to Europe before and I've been to big airports, so that wasn't a thing. But I remember this sense of... even the skies are bluer here. And walking through the airport the smells of the... and I didn't understand in those days the industrial strength cleansers they used... what I was smelling was the deodorizer that was used in the floors and the concourses.... I thought that this is what America smells like.

I remember that when I went through the customs and immigration line the guy opens my passport. He was a grandfatherly looking gentleman with a nice white mustache. And, he looked in my passport and saw that there was nothing in there, not a single stamp saying I'd been in the U.S. It wasn't reentry recently. He looked at me and said "you've been out of the U.S. a long time, huh?" And I said "yeah." He looked at me and smiled at me and said, "welcome home, son." You know? It gave me goosebumps! I thought wow, this is really cool!

All of the people that I met overseas, all of those wonderful, well-educated Americans who were so open to new ideas, who were so progressive, and who were the kind of people who inspired me to be... like I want to be like them! I thought that's who I would encounter everywhere I went in the U.S. and that wasn't the case. I was sadly disappointed soon after.

But I remember flying from Chicago, then I flew to Spokane. My cousin picked me up in Spokane and then drove me down to Pullman. We stopped in Colfax on the way because the Palouse Empire Fair was happening. I watched the rodeo and we had corn dog, which I never knew what a corn dog was even. And I had a corn dog. And we watched a few more events and then it was time to head down to Pullman, the last fifteen miles. And I just thought the highway from Spokane to Pullman... this is such a long way... how do people do this? This is forever to drive it! And now I know Pullman to Spokane is nothing.

But, I met my aunt then really for the first time. I had no memory of her. My grandmother again that I lived with in Los Angeles for a year, but hadn't seen in twelve years. Saw her again, she was twelve years older and so was I. Met cousins and my uncles... and it was also a weird thing to have family you didn't really know, but now be with them. That was the first day in America.