“Go back to where you came from, you terrorist!”
This is just one of the many warm, lovely, and helpful tips that Wajahat Ali and other children of immigrants receive on a daily basis. Go back where exactly? His hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he can’t afford rent?
Awkward, left-handed, suffering from OCD, and wearing Husky pants, Ali grew up on the margins of the American mainstream, devoid of Brown superheroes, where people like him were portrayed as goofy sidekicks, shop owners with funny accents, sweaty terrorists, or aspiring sweaty terrorists. Driven by his desire to expand the American narrative to include protagonists who look like him, he became a writer, and in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, an accidental activist and ambassador of all things Muslim-y. He uses his pen with turmeric-stained fingernails to fill in missing narratives, challenge the powerful, and booby trap racist stereotypes. In his bold, hopeful and hilarious memoir, Ali offers indispensable lessons and strategies to help cultivate a more compassionate America.
Praise for Go Back to Where You Came From
“Wajahat Ali’s deeply personal and keenly perceptive memoir is a clear-eyed account of his American immigrant experience—an experience that is both unique and universal. We are all fortunate to be on the receiving end of not only his intellect, but his humanity and heart.”
—KATIE COURIC, Emmy Award–winning journalist
"Find a place on your bookshelf between Mark Twain and James Baldwin. Read this book before putting it there."
—TIMOTHY SNYDER, author of On Tyranny
“In prose at times hilarious and at other times deeply moving, Wajahat chronicles a uniquely American experience. All will benefit from reading Wajahat’s story of being a first-generation Muslim-American living in the shadow of September 11th, and the personal struggles he and his family have gone through.”
—Congresswoman ILHAN OMAR
"Wajahat Ali has already proven that he is the fastest mind on TV. Unlike other panel members who wing it, Ali shows up prepared. Now his fans can sample his brilliance on the page."
—ISHMAEL REED, MacArthur Genius recipient and Pulitzer nominated author and poet
“Timely and engrossing, Go Back balances Wajahat Ali’s sharp satire and deep empathy by chronicling his personal story of growing up as a first-generation Muslim-American. His brilliant, hilarious, and eye-opening book will make any reader want to come to his block party.”
—SUNNY HOSTIN, New York Times bestselling author of Summer on the Bluffs and I Am These Truths
“This is the book I’ve been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”
—DAVE EGGERS, author of The Every
“A tender-knife sharp analysis of racism, America, the wick of power, language and culture — personal, painful, familial and global.”
—JUAN FELIPE HERRERA, United States Poet Laureate Emeritus
“Go Back To Where You Came From is a hilarious and heartwarming treatise on what it truly means to be American in the 21st century. You’ll be laughing so hard you won’t even notice the inevitable Islamic takeover of America! Oops, I’ve said too much.”
—REZA ASLAN, author of No god but God and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
"At once a tragedy and comedy, Go Back to Where You Came From is a rich feast for all the senses -- a must read."
—SE CUPP, CNN Host, Author and Columnist
"A candid story of growing up Muslim in America. Go Back to Where You Came From reveals the pain of loving a nation that doesn't always love you back."
—LAILA LALAMI, Pulitzer-prize nominated author of The Other Americans
"This powerful and moving book is, at its heart, a love story. The beloved, flawed and tragic -- so flawed, so tragic -- is America. The lover's hope is always undermined. And yet his hope somehow endures."
—MOHSIN HAMID, author of Exit West
“A lovely book full of wisdom and compassion, not to mention Ali's signature humor. As educational as it is entertaining.”
—GARY SHTEYNGART, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“A gifted playwright and media star, Wajahat Ali mines the sheer comedic potential of being brown and Muslim in America, and dissects the dynamics of bigotry, in all its aspects, including Islamophobia and white nationalism.”
—CARLA BLANK, author author of Storming the Old Boys Citadel: Two Pioneer Women Architects of Nineteenth Century North America
"With characteristic wit and humanity, Wajahat captures something essential—even universal—in this hilarious, sweet, sad, unexpectedly hopeful, and timely memoir. Everybody should read this book.”
—MEENA HARRIS, Best Selling Author and Founder and CEO of Phenomenal
"Wajahat Ali writes with effervescent verve, an easy wit, and a bracing moral clarity. This book made me laugh out loud, tear up, giggle, google recipes for Pakistani food, and think long and hard about what it means to be an American and whom we include in that category. It is also easily the most enjoyable book I've read in years. Now if only it had recipes..."
—JULIA IOFFE, Journalist and author of the forthcoming Motherland
Very Fine Writer.
Well Spoken Speaker. Brownish Dad.
Who Is Wajahat Ali?
Wajahat Ali in conversation with James Fallows at the Chautauqua Institution
Wajahat Ali is a Daily Beast columnist, public speaker, recovering attorney, and tired dad of three cute kids. He is currently working on his first book Go Back To Where You Came From: And, Other Helpful Recommendations on Becoming American which will be published in January 2022 by Norton. He believes in sharing stories that are by us, for everyone: universal narratives told through a culturally specific lens to entertain, educate and bridge the global divides.
He also enjoys writing about himself in the third person. He frequently appears on television and podcasts for his brilliant, incisive, and witty political commentary. Born in the Bay Area, California to Pakistani immigrant parents, Ali went to school wearing Husky pants and knowing only three words of English. He graduated from UC Berkeley with an English major and became a licensed attorney. He knows what it feels like to be the token minority in the classroom and the darkest person in a boardroom. Like Spiderman, he’s often had the power and responsibility of being the cultural ambassador of an entire group of people, those who are often marginalized, silenced, or reduced to stereotypes. His essays, interviews, and reporting have appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and New York Review of Books. Ali has spoken at many organizations, from Google to Walmart-Jet to Princeton University to the United Nations to the Chandni Indian-Pakistani Restaurant in Newark, California, and his living room in front of his three kids.
Public Speaking Engagements
Wajahat Ali giving the keynote at TED 2019
You've heard the story on the news: We live in a time marked by deep division, deafening hate, political polarization and growing mistrust. But underneath these headlines, there exists a genuine desire to connect and empathize with others. How do we arrive at this bolder future, which, despite the general sentiment, is still within reach? Wajahat Ali shows us how we can band together as multicultural Avengers—a multicultural coalition of the willing—to overcome bigotry, fear and harmful stereotypes. Bold, realistic, honest and emphatically optimistic, Ali asks: How can young people, communities of color, and those left on the sidelines emerge as the co-protagonists of the American narrative using their authentic stories? And what does it mean to be an ally to these groups? In powerful talks and workshops, keyed to this crucial time, Ali guides universities, companies and organizations on how we can embrace a multifaceted American experience. He shows an emergent generation how to use their personal stories for social change, and why it matters now more than ever. Watch a selection of his past speeches and appearances below:
The Washington Post
Words. The Very Best Words.
Wajahat Ali in conversation with Katie Couric at SXSW 2018 Main Panel on "The Muslim Next Door."
Wajahat Ali wields his pen and worn-out Apple Macbook as a spiritual lightsaber to provide a unique perspective to the pressing political and cultural issues of today with humor, honesty, original reporting, personal stories, and exquisite pop cultural references. His writing and reporting from specific religious and ethnic communities resonate universal truths with global audiences grappling with rapidly shifting identities and boundaries.