Oldest Pakistani Community in US Draws Zia to Sacramento
By Wallace Turner
Published: December 12, 1982


( Here is a slice of Pakistani-American history forwarded to us by our regular contributor Ras Siddiqui. – Editor)

Sacramento, CA:   Selim Khan, hefting a cloth-wrapped copy of the Koran in English and Arabic, addressed the question of why President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan would include a three-hour visit to a freeway-bordered corner of Sacramento on his American visit.

''Well,'' he said, after some thought, ''this is the oldest and largest Pakistani community in the United States.'' President Zia, on his first state visit to the United States, has scheduled a visit Dec. 12 to the Moslem Mosque at 411 V Street here. Mr. Khan said this mosque, opened in 1947, was the first in the Western United States. Imam Ibrahim Hamdani, the religious leader of the mosque, said 5,000 Pakistanis live in northern California.

''President Zia will be here for the late afternoon and sunset prayers,'' said Mr. Khan, president of the mosque, which is a center for activities of 2,000 Pakistanis in the Sacramento area. On Dec. 13, President Zia will meet with Mayor Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco and address a joint luncheon of the San Francisco Commonwealth Club and the World Affairs Council of Northern California.


Tie of Religion Is Strong

While they may be professors, rice growers, engineers, field hands or property owners, northern California's Pakistanis are linked by religion.

Beginning in 1900, they came from the Punjab, a province of British India, along with Sikhs and a small number of Hindus. All these groups worked together in the Gadar Party, an Indian refugee political group whose American headquarters were in San Francisco. In 1948 the party's aim was realized when the British withdrew from India.

Pakistan, as a nation for Moslems, was carved out of British India, and for the first time the immigrants from India shared a nationalist as well as a religious background.

Mr. Khan is a 1943 immigrant, but his wife, Olga, was born in El Centro, Calif., the daughter of Mir Dad, now 95 years old, who arrived in 1917. Mir Dad became an owner of agricultural land near Phoenix.

''He never learned English well,'' Mrs. Khan said of her father. ''He still speaks a mixture of English, Urdu and Spanish.''


No Wives Came From Home

Her mother, she said, is of Spanish descent. Immigration rules kept out almost all Pakistanis, and so there were no wives from home for the early immigrants. ''If they wanted to be married, they married the women they could find,'' said Mrs. Khan. ''But a lot of them died as bachelors.''

Her father brought his family north to Sacramento in the summers to be near the mosque and to escape the Phoenix summer heat. There she met Mr. Khan, who had left India as a ship crewman.

''I didn't want to go back because the British were in control,'' he said. His enlistment in the United States Army in World War II allowed him to become a citizen. He manages property he and his wife own, and a year ago he took a master of arts degree in history from California State University at Sacramento.

Javed T. Siddiqui, 36, interviewed in his engineering concern's office in downtown Sacramento, immigrated in a different style. The son of a Karachi intellectual family, he came to the United States in 1966 when he was 20 to study engineering at California State, Sacramento. He operates his own company and is unmarried. 'I Must Set the Example'

''My parents are looking to getting me married,'' he said. He expects that the wife will be a Pakistani whom his parents help him select, he said, adding, ''Being the oldest, I must set the example and let my parents lead.''

He said his father works in Saudi Arabia as a geologist, while three younger brothers and a widowed sister with her two children have all joined Mr. Siddiqui in Sacramento. The sister is about to take her engineering degree. One brother graduated in computer science, and two are engineering students. His mother is about to return to Pakistan after a two-month visit to Sacramento.

''When I first came, I wanted to go back,'' he said. ''Then when I went back to visit, I couldn't find a worthwhile job and I felt useless. Then I realized what a wonderful place America is and that it is as much home to me as the other place. I can't divest myself of either place.''

However, Mrs. Khan, drawing on her memories of growing up in Phoenix, gives a different view of being a Pakistani in America. The language of her home was Spanish, her mother's language.

''We had to learn English when we went to school,'' she said. ''It was hard sometimes. The other kids called us Hindus. I couldn't understand why they did that. They would walk all the way down the hall to bump you. Sometimes it was hard to go to school.''

One of the sights to be shown to President Zia will be the new religious school opened in February next to the mosque. At classes in late afternoon and weekends, 100 children of Moslem families are taught Islamic history and religious thought as well as Arabic and Urdu. Olga Khan is one of the teachers. – The New York Times




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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