Thirty Years of APPNA
By Nayyer Ali, MD
Huntington Beach, CA
summer marks the 30th anniversary of one of the pillars of
the Pakistani-American community, APPNA. APPNA, the Association
of the Pakistani Physicians of North America, was incorporated
in August 1977, and has had steady growth since then.
It was only natural that the rising tide of Pakistan-educated
physicians coming to America would form a professional organization.
The changes in US immigration laws in 1965 opened the gates,
and larger and larger number of physicians sought training
and a better life in America. Over the last 40 years over
10,000 physicians trained in Pakistan have come to the US.
In many localities their combination of education and economic
success made them the focal point of local projects, particularly
mosque-building and community organizing.
APPNA was formed to create a national professional organization.
Starting from a small base it now has several thousand members.
It publishes a journal, organizes educational programs, and
has a well-attended annual convention. The past-Presidents
of APPNA reads like a “Who’s who” of the
Pakistani-American community. Pak-PAC, the major Pakistani
political action committee was started by APPNA.
APPNA faces a number of challenges in moving forward. First
is the usual politics involved in these sorts of organizations.
There can sometimes be personal rivalries and competitions
that can do more harm than good for the broader membership.
Secondly, there is a new generation of Pakistani-origin physicians
who were born and raised in the US and attended American medical
schools. How is APPNA going to appeal to them and make a compelling
case for these second generation doctors to engage the organization?
A third challenge is political and religious. The disputes
of “back home” can sometimes spill into the American
arena. Pakistani politicians and generals care about the views
of Pakistani-Americans, and getting the tacit endorsement
of organizations like APPNA can be very valuable.
How should APPNA approach these issues, if at all? Is it even
really possible to be neutral on these questions? Simply giving
a platform at the convention to a politician is a tacit form
of support, especially if not extended to his or her opponents.
Finally, APPNA has to sometimes deal with the thorny issue
of religion. Although the vast majority of Pakistanis are
Muslims, there are some (including one Supreme Court justice,
a very prominent newspaper columnist, and even members of
the national cricket team) who are not. Should APPNA therefore
avoid supporting or honoring Islamic traditions at its events
such as Qur’anic recitations? This issue did come up
recently at an APPNA dinner, and so it is not just a theoretical
APPNA has to its great credit become very active in humanitarian
work. Not just earthquake relief but also ongoing human development
projects are supported by APPNA.
The next thirty years will hopefully be even better for this
organization. If it can overcome its challenges and develop
a focused set of goals and priorities, it can be a strong
pillar of the Pakistan-American community.