What It Means to Be a Pakistani-American?
By Shahid Athar, MD
Indianapolis , US
To me, Pakistan is not just a country of 170 million people but an ideology based on the conviction that Muslims have a right to their belief and way of life. Pakistan is a dream come true and part of a greater dream; the dream of a poet, Sir Mohammad Iqbal, and fulfilled by God through the late Mr. M.A. Jinnah and his devoted supporters.
Being an ideology, Pakistan cannot be limited by geographical boundaries. Pakistan has and will continue to live in the hearts of those who believe in Pakistan, whether they are Pakistani or not, whether they are in Pakistan or outside Pakistan. They are Pakistan and Pakistan is for them.
There are over 1000,000 Pakistanis, including 15,000 physicians, who are living in the USA. They might have come as students and exchange visitors, but most of them are US citizens or at least immigrants now. They were in the beginning concentrated only in big cities, and still are, but now they are spreading to rural America as well.
In contrast to Pakistanis in the United Kingdom, those in USA are contributing to the technical manpower of US in the field of education, medicine, science and engineering. Again in contrast to Pakistanis in the Middle East who have gone there to earn their living on a temporary assignment, those in the USA are here to stay at least for the time being. Now that they are here, there are special problems facing them and they have different roles to play in this society.
The preservation of our national identity and roots is our first challenge. We are frequently mistaken as Indians by ignorant Americans. This may be partly due to the common appearance but partly it is due to the insufficient projection of Pakistan. The political and economic situation in Pakistan should not decrease the love for Pakistan and should not affect the sense of dignity. We need to constantly remind ourselves, our children and our American friends as to why and how Pakistan was created and that it should continue to exist. Wherever needed and possible, we should identify ourselves as of Pakistani origin and should speak high of our motherland.
The second problem is of preservation of our cultural heritage. We may not appreciate this problem to the full extent at this time but this will be a problem for our second and third generations. Unless we take a precautionary measure for preservation, our children’s Pakistani cultural values may melt away in this “melting pot.” Therefore, we should encourage to speak and teach our children at home their ethnic language, be it Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi or Pashto. We should always give Pakistani names for their children though they may be difficult for their American friends to pronounce. We should dress on occasion a Pakistani dress and feel proud of being from Pakistan.
But most of all we should have a Pakistani community and a sense of belonging to it. The community of Pakistanis should have an informal code of friendship and association among the members. We should minimize our differences and promote brotherhood. We should share joys and pains and be close together like members of a family. We should promote, encourage and incorporate into our heart and mind a sense of belonging to Pakistan and to the community.
For Pakistanis who are Muslims should know that Pakistan was created on the basis of religion; therefore, they cannot disassociate Pakistan and Islam from their lives. It is of extreme importance that they do preserve our religion not only for the sake of their salvation but for their children as well. Children are very observant and fast learners. Their mind is like fertilized but unused soil, ready to be embedded with any seed we put in it. For these children to grow up as Muslims, they have to be shown what a good Muslim should be, with examples in belief, prayer and practice. In terms of religion, one should be what we want our children to be. We should also show their children and then keep them in a community of other Muslim children in America, Pakistani and non-Pakistani, white, brown and black.
What should be our role and duties toward Pakistan? After having expected Pakistan to do everything for us, let us question what we have to or should do for Pakistan. Indeed we can help Pakistan in many ways without having to register as an agent of foreign government. First, we should never forget that we are always an unofficial representative of Pakistan whether we want it this way or not. We must project a good image of Pakistan by our views and deeds. If we ourselves are always critical of Pakistan and Pakistanis, how do we expect others to speak high of Pakistan?
Secondly, we should generate as much friendship and good will as possible with Americans on a personal basis. Friendship of hearts is of greater importance than the treaties on paper between two governments. While looking up to the glitter and glory of this mighty nation, USA, we should not be subdued and feel inferior because of backwardness and poverty of our motherland. Thirdly, we should never hesitate to express views and suggestions on the affairs of Pakistan in writing and in public. Our views may differ at times with those of the Pakistani government; however, patriotism to the land and that to the political machine ruling the land are two separate things. In fact, opposition to a particular regime once could be regarded as patriotism to the land. Their frank expressions will not jeopardize their visa status. The Bill of Rights from the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech not only for United States citizens but also non-residents as well. Fourthly, we should help build Pakistan’s economy by investing in Pakistan. Lastly, we should offer from time to time advice and services to the Pakistani people or government.
For those Pakistanis who have taken citizenship in the USA, this is our adopted home. This blessed land has welcomed us, given us shelter, prosperity and freedom. We should be thankful for this and should do our best to strengthen the roots and the structure of this great nation. This we can do by working hard, supporting democratic principles and promoting Pakistan-American friendship. We should uphold sanctity of life and oppose those who violate it. We should never condone or justify terrorism. All concerns of the society we live in from pothole and pollution to bioterrorism are our concerns. Finally, we should work hard to end centuries old Hindu-Muslim disunity back home and bring the two communities together in a spirit of cooperation as Immigrant Americans. We should tolerate other faith traditions and actively promote interfaith dialogue.
Pakistan has faced many challenges ever since her birth 63 years ago: imposed wars, division in 1971, political turmoil, earthquakes, terrorism, and floods and has always come out of devastating catastrophes by virtue of the unflinching will of Pakistanis and unbounded help from Allah. All we need is to remain united and focused on our cause.