I am a 39-year-old New Yorker who has been living in the metro area for over 12 years. My story begins in a remote village in North West of Pakistan. This truly was a ‘third world’ place, with no electricity, running water or basic infrastructure. But my mother insisted on all of us living in the village, rather than moving into the city, so we fully understood our roots and experienced a developing civilization. In her words, we would ‘never appreciate the light if we hadn’t lived in the dark’.
At the age of 13 I moved to England, with no English and a limited understanding of the British culture. Without a doubt, the first few years were extremely difficult, but with a significant amount of perseverance and my mother’s fortitude I managed to get in to one of the top schools in the world. I studied mathematics at Imperial College, London and joined a prestigious hedge fund on the trading floor in London.
This was no easy feat; I felt true push-back when I went to the trading floor on my first day. I was one of only 7 Pakistani guys out of nearly 1000 traders. It was real hard work to be taunted by the upper echelons of the British class, consistently ridiculed and called “Paki”. This only made me work harder and aim higher.
I moved to New York City in 2001, two weeks prior to September 11. I was hired by an American firm and was learning the tools of trading in New York City. My prospects were looking good and I felt this was my time to shine. September 11 however changed everything for me; as the world came together to fight against this heinous crime against humanity, I found myself ostracized by those who only weeks prior called me their colleague and friend. The bigots, a minority, hurled their racist chants at me based on my humble beliefs and racial profile. The world couldn’t have been a lonelier place.
I was then unexpectedly fired and felt pressured by my employer to leave the country. As you can imagine, I truly felt like a legal alien and at times pondered about the little village I had left behind in my teens.
However, at the same time, there were those who were equally great in their gestures with their kindness and hospitality. In the cold Autumn of 2001, I found myself sharing a Thanksgiving meal with an Italian family who held out on their meal whilst I completed my fast during the month of Ramadan. For me, this was not just a Thanksgiving meal, it was an act of true compassion from people who offered me not only a meal, but a lifeline, in the form of financial, practical and emotional support.
With this lifeline I carved myself a thriving firm on Wall Street. With a pound in my pocket I took a chance and came to this great country and made it happen. It was not just my early starts and late nights in the office that made my business grow; it was the generosity of the people I met along the way that stood by me. My upbringing and my ethics have taught me to never forget those people who gave me a helping hand, or gave me a chance when I had nothing.
I love NYC; I think the diverse culture, the wonderful people, experiences and amazing attractions are a testament to what makes New York, New York. However what makes me successful and stand out against the New York crowd is my life journey; my Muslim heritage coupled with British culture has resulted in a unique set of characteristics that have enabled me to face adversity head on; to take strength from my life experiences and make the most of difficult and enduring circumstances.
Much of the credit should go to my mother; her firm belief that we should not lose our culture or background, her insistence that we should always be understanding and show our new hosts that we bring with us positive change. I have stayed true to her principles and can only imagine where my life might have ended up without them.