A Pakistan Studies Program at UC Davis?
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Middle East/South Asia Studies (MESA) Program at the University of California at Davis partnering with the Pakistani American Cultural Studies Institute (PACSI) held a Pakistani Film Symposium to attract attention within both academia and the Pakistani-American community to assist in an effort towards establishing a Pakistan Studies and separate Urdu Program at UC Davis. The symposium also gave the local public and community members the opportunity to view two Pakistani films: Shoaib Mansoor’s “Khuda Kay Liye” and Mehreen Jabbar’s “Ramchand Pakistani” which have earned critical acclaim internationally.
As expected, the attendance was modest due to previous free access to these movies amongst the local Pakistani community, along with the current difficulty of marketing Pakistan in the United States amongst non-Pakistanis. But the effort was commendable nonetheless and thanks go out to Dr. Suad Joseph at MESA and Mrs. Khalida Kareemi of PACSI for initiating this move to promote the Urdu language and to begin an understanding of Pakistani culture at this campus beyond the bearded warriors who have erroneously come to solely represent the country in America.
I asked Dr. Suad Joseph as to how this idea of a Pakistani film symposium came about. She said that an Iranian Film Symposium had been done earlier in the year and that Advisory Board Member Khalida Kareemi suggested that a similar Pakistani effort be carried out. The MESA committee agreed and local Pakistani community leaders in Sacramento agreed to help out. Asked about the goal of this effort Dr. Joseph said, “The purpose is to invite the Northern California area community to work with us to develop Pakistani Studies and to advance Urdu Language studies at UC Davis. We already teach Urdu in conjunction with Hindi. However, there is an interest to develop a separate track for Urdu language and literature. We believe that it is critical at this moment for our students to come to know more about Pakistani history and culture and it is critical for the general public to become more informed about this important country. Pakistan is always in the newspapers now, but not for reasons that most of us would prefer. As a result there is an accumulation of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Pakistani society. Pakistani American community has lived in the Davis/Sacramento area for over 100 years. Many send their children to UC Davis for education. In addition to heritage students, there is an increased awareness among the students that they need and want to know more about Pakistan. Currently we do not have courses dedicated to the
study of Pakistan at UC Davis. It is time to do so. It is urgently the time to do so.”
I asked Khalida Kareemi of PACSI (www.pacsii.org ) as to why UC Davis was chosen for her efforts. She replied, “Several years ago, when I created the Pakistani Program at De Anza College, some students were commuting from Davis. These were students who felt very strongly about Pakistani culture. Furthermore, UC Davis’ MSA was one of the student bodies that had marketed our program at De Anza. As I became more familiar with these students, and also knowing that De Anza College has a transfer agreement with Davis, which means a fair number of our students choose Davis, these students kept returning for our Urdu class. When I created PACSI, it was students and the UC administration who worked with me in moving forward with Davis.”
On PACSI’s other efforts since its launch, Mrs. Kareemi said that it has been active on similar projects at other UC campuses and CSU. She added that students had been approaching her for several years to implement such programs and added that in the past year PACSI had hosted a variety of programs where a healthy integration between the mainstream and Pakistanis was established.
On why the Pakistani-American community has been lagging behind other communities in promoting Pakistani culture in America, her answer was: “The reason other communities were successful is because they were united and selfless in their quest for assimilation and clearly their only vision was the future of their children. Nothing else mattered. Once other communities decided to settle in America, they quickly learned the ways and despite the fact that there was a language barrier, they made sure their children were not deprived of the American experience. For example, if you read Chicano history, and read such writers as Gary Soto (a Sacramento resident) who tries to find a common ground for Chicano Americans and at the same time giving them their ethnic coloring,” said Khalida. “Other communities recognized that duality and they too came to terms with their ethnologic diversity, yet they embraced the American experience. Pakistanis are still worried about Pakistan (and they should be), but to an extent where it does not jeopardize the youth in the US Pakistanis are always donating abroad to Islamic and humanitarian causes. While that is important to provide resources, they must also be vigilant in providing similar resources to the community in the US,” she said. “Most Pakistanis still have one foot in Pakistan,” she added.
I asked Dr. Suad Joseph as to how much financial support MESA was looking for to get things going at this campus. She replied, “We hope to do a lecture series in 2009-10 on Pakistan. This would cost $10,000 for one year. In the following year, we would like to do a lecture series and have a visiting scholar of Pakistan come for a more extended stay and offer a course on Pakistan. Depending on the scholar and the duration of the visit, this could cost $20-40,000. Eventually we would like to build toward an endowed chair in Pakistani studies within the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program at UC Davis. We will work step by step, building toward a more expansive coverage of Pakistan and Urdu language and literature. We invite the community to work with us toward that goal. It is needed; it is time to focus on the rich history, culture, society, language and literature of Pakistan.”
In conclusion, no one can argue that Pakistan is important to not only the United States but to the global war on extremism today. But leaving it to the mainstream media in America to represent the true nature of Pakistan amongst Americans is not wise. If Pakistani-Americans want things to change, they will need to invest time, energy and resources in the right places (like MESA and PACSI and not to forget the Pakistan Link). Maybe not just for promoting the beautiful “Ramchand Pakistani”, but can we at least do it for “Khuda Kay Liye” and for the sake of our children?