Seventeen years ago, Iqbal Mevawalla left his comfortable job as a typist at a TV station in Karachi, Pakistan for an unknown future in the United States. When he arrived in Chicago, his first job was making sandwiches at Subway, a giant step down from the middle class lifestyle he was used to.
And yet Mevawalla, 44, who has been driving a taxi for the past ten years, brings a sense of dignity and honor to jobs that others might treat with disdain. He sits behind the wheel of his cab in a nicely pressed shirt and sleek grey dress pants, clothes better suited for a day in a cubicle than one on the road. He talks about his work with pride, explaining how wonderful it is to be self-employed and describing his various jobs as a learning process.
â€œIt was an experience,â€ he said of his work at Subway and afterwards as a gas station cashier.
And an experience that he hopes to build upon. His goal is to someday run his own gas station or convenience store.
Though to an outsider, it might seem like life was better in Pakistan, Mevawalla speaks glowingly about the U.S., praising the legal system that keeps the country in order.
â€œI love the laws, the rules, and regulations (in the U.S.),â€ he said.
In Pakistan, he said, the police are corrupt and there is no guarantee that criminals will be punished. In addition, economic problems there make daily life unpredictable, because businesses close so frequently.
He often talks to his mom, who still lives in Karachi with his two sisters, and hears about the difficulties they face at home.
â€œSometimes they say there is a strike, no buses, stores are closed,â€ he said. â€œIt is bad for businesspeople there.â€
The son of an Indian father and Pakistani mother, Mevawalla was born in India but moved to Pakistan at a young age. He speaks much more highly of India, which he says is overcoming its many problems and becoming a strong democracy.
â€œIâ€™m not against Pakistan, but India is growing and Pakistan is going down,â€ he said. â€œ(Pakistanis) donâ€™t get a good education, so they are poor.â€
Mevawalla came to the U.S. to follow his wife. She had moved here ten years earlier, and their marriage was arranged from afarâ€”through her sister who knew his cousinâ€”before they had ever met. All he knew of her was her picture and a few months of phone conversations when she returned to Pakistan for the wedding, after which he came back with her to the states to start their life together.
Although he has spent almost a third of his life in the U.S. and is proud to call Chicago his home, Mevawalla knows well one of the central tenets of immigrant life: once an immigrant, always an immigrant.
â€œMy English is not very good,â€ he said apologetically. â€œIâ€™m new here.â€