In Pursuit of the Pakistani-American Identity
By Aisha Qamar

On April 26, 2008, the Pakistani American Cultural Studies Institute (PACSI) will hold a fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto. The theme for the evening is “The Polarization of Cultures.” The program will feature prominent voices to illustrate the need for cultural education and the development of a Pakistani-American identity.  Professor Sara Suleri Goodyear of Yale University, Bapsi Sidhwa, author of Pakistani Bride, and Professor Paula Moya of Stanford University each will address both Pakistani-American and American themes.
PACSI is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop Pakistani-American studies at higher institutions of learning in order to provide a sense of identity to the Pakistani-American students. The organization seeks to provide educational institutions and community groups with the tools to address the needs of Pakistani-American students.  PACSI is based on the premise that youth education about culture, traditions, and value systems will enhance their cultural understanding as it affects them as individuals, as well as mitigate the polarization between family culture and peer culture in the United States.
Professor Khalida Kareemi, a faculty at De Anza College in Cupertino, founded the organization to promote a comprehensive cultural education for youth, which includes a strong emphasis on Urdu language and Islam. Second generation Pakistanis often receive contradictory messages about their identity and place in American society. They are told to proudly display their Pakistani heritage and simultaneously advised to assimilate into mainstream American culture.  In order for the Pakistani community to thrive and establish a strong identity, young Pakistani-Americans need to reconcile these conflicting messages through access to educational and counseling resources.
Professor Kareemi developed the Urdu program at De Anza College nearly ten years ago and created a detailed program for the study of the language. Duane Kubo, Dean of the Intercultural Studies division at De Anza College, has been one of the forces behind creating this Urdu program. In fact, his support and commitment to the program is what has solidified it.  Professor Kareemi’s courses, which include Urdu language with an emphasis on Islamic education, demonstrate how Pakistani culture and Islam are intertwined. Students come from a wide range of backgrounds of South Asian heritage; in fact, many come from distant cities in order to enroll in the program, which is UC and CSU approved. It has given the Pakistani and Indian students a real sense of cultural identity.
Professor Kareemi is an English Writing professor, but was compelled to develop this program when she recognized a lack of strong Urdu and Pakistani studies, as Urdu is typically taught in conjunction with Hindi.  Such Hindi-Urdu programs teach students about Hindu religion, Indian nationalism and ideology, yet a foundation in Pakistani culture and religion is noticeably absent.  “We want to show the value of being Pakistani and of being Muslim — we cannot promote culture without recognizing religion,” states Professor Kareemi. It is in this vein that her mission for cultural identity began over twenty years ago when she created and taught the first pilot program at Canada College in Redwood City. The success of the program is what created a demand for Urdu studies.
Through PACSI, community members are creating a space for Pakistani-Americans to engage in discourse about the issues that matter to them.  The development of a strong Pakistani-American identity will facilitate a better understanding of both Pakistan and Islam with America and the global community.  The fundraiser will engage community members in carrying out the mission of the organization. Professor Kareemi emphasizes the need for community input to shape the needs of PACSI, as well as the importance of opening up dialogue about the issues confronting the Pakistani community. 
Tickets for the fundraiser can be purchased by calling Seema Kareemi at 650.305.0020 and Fauzia Bajwa at 408.395.7164. Tickets will also be available online at www.pacsii.org after April 5th, 2008.
For more information about PACSI and the organization’s fundraiser, please visit: Pacsii.org or email info@pacsii.org.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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