In the year 2000, When Usman Ally left Pakistan to attend college in Portland, Oregon, it was still relatively easy for people coming from there to get a visa.
But then his life, like so many others, was forever changed by Sept. 11, 2001.
Ally joined his wife, Malena, at the Chicago StoryCorps booth to talk about identity and love in post-9/11 America.
Malena: Talk a little bit about your experiences in Portland, what you were studying.
Usman: Portland was fine. It was just very, very homogenous, and that was very difficult for me. Especially once 9/11 happened. I hate to say it, but sometimes I feel like my identity in this country is sort of defined by that event.
After 9/11, Arab and Muslim men from certain countries were required to go into the immigration office and sign up for “Special Registration.”
Usman: They would take all of your information, and then they would just ask these questions about who you are and where you’re from and what your parents do. I had nothing to hide, but I just remember being terrified each time.
Malena: And then we met in Chicago … What do you remember about me when we first met?
Usman: ... I had a sort of nervous energy and an excitement to see you, and I was trying to figure you out a little bit. Trying to see if we were compatible at all, you know? Because we were from such different worlds.
Malena … Obviously I made a good impression though, because you asked me to marry you.
After an arduous visa application process, Malena and Usman were married. But their wedding wasn’t a completely happy occasion. Click on the audio above to find out why.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Pakistan as an Arab nation, and has been corrected.
Katie Mingle is a producer for WBEZ and the Third Coast Festival.