Asad Ali Jafri: My Heart Is In A Good Place

Asad came to the StoryCorps booth to share how he struggled with his Indian/Pakistani identity, as he lived in Kuwait and came to the US during the Gulf War. He felt disconnected from his cultural roots, and describes his personal journey on how he came to embrace his unique individuality. Being involved in the arts,culture, and social enterprise sector led him to realize that his greatest strength is in bringing people together. Through his work with the Foundation for Muslim Culture, his ultimate goal is to unite people in creating meaningful connections and relationships.

This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps in Chicago.


“When I was growing up I really hated my cultural background. I did not want to be Indian- Pakistani. I thought that was the worst thing to be, especially, in Kuwait because there was a lot of racism to people from the subcontinent. And then coming to the US me and my brother growing up we could kind of pass for Latino, especially because we would kind of have a bald fade and we would just be really into hip pop culture and the way that we dressed. And we kind of liked that better we thought personally the best thing to be was either black or Latino because that’s where our idols from hip pop culture we coming from and because we could not really pas fro black we could pass for Latino and that was cool. And not that we would say that but people would just assume that especially in high school and it took me a while to kind of start loving and embracing my own roots again and kind of bringing that altogether.


So I do think there was a time when I kind of rejected that part of my upbringing. Muslimness was cool because in high school when the Malcolm x movie came out all the folk that were claiming different gangs and stuff started wearing Malcolm X hats and saying Salam Alaikum to each other because that was always cool and hip pop kind of brought up either Muslims or Islamic reverences too at the time whether is was through five percent nation or the nation of Islam. So it took a long time for me to say you know what I am cool with my own roots and bring that into the whole mix. I think I have tons of stories about people at the end of the say right? And people that really move me and I think all of the work I do even though I am working through art and culture I did a lot of work with start ups and social enterprises well right. And working with young leaders there and I realize that my strength as an individual isn’t in the arts for example or one particular sector it really is bring the people together and that is something I really love to do.


There is this artist retreat model that we do with the Foundation for Muslim Culture, FMC for short and it is bring a bunch of artist together in one space just so that they can connect a lot of the time we think well what are our goals and how do you evaluate it and I just find it important if we are in the same place and talking like this or your just having a meal together or some tea together that’s probably the most important impact and if people can really build those relationships and not think about oh well what am I going to get out of this , right? And what’s in it for me and really have those relationship we are changing the world there.  And I think there is a real lose of that in the way we live and the way that we communicate that we are not so much about relationships anymore. We are about kind of the outwardness or we are kind of about our profiles , or our Instagrams, or our Snapchats and I would love for people to just kind of have those conversations.


So I guess in college I went from that guys who had fifty people sleeping at my apartment and I put chairs together in the kitchen just to find a place to sleep right. And now I am the kind of guy who if there is more then five people I don’t know if I am going to go to a social event of course ill do event that have hundreds or thousands of people but want really that connect of like the small groups right. And that is a change in my own mentality of like you don’t have to be the popular person doesn’t have to be the center of the party don’t have to get all the attention or anything like that. Or even bring that many people together but you do have to get deep with your relationships and make friends beyond your comfort zone. And change the world together based on those relationships.


The hard things about working in a lot of places is that you kind of don’t have a home anymore. And even just with my life bring brought up at the age of ten the gulf war happened and we had to move to the us and so that kind of like uprooted us and ever since then I have never felt like I belong in one place so my heart is always somewhere else, but in a good way in, in a good way of like longing and learning. And because this like is all kind of temporary anyway I guess that is a good thing to always feel like you need to be somewhere else. So my heart is in a lot of different places. I wish I could be in Malaysia right now physically speaking. But my heart is in a good place and a spiritually uplifted place that I hope I can share with others as well.”

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