Pakistani-American Elected Mayor
By Riaz Haq
Haroon Saleem gets a congratulatory hug from Mary Narte (right) while friends Jan and Jerry Fletcher
collect a campaign sign for a memento in Granite Falls on Nov. 4. Picture courtesy The Seattle Times
A Pakistani-American has been elected mayor of a town in Washington state by a landslide. The 54-year-old Mayor-elect Haroon Saleem admits that running the Timberline Bar and Cafe, with beer ads plastered everywhere, is not exactly a pious following of Islam, which forbids alcohol consumption.
The big win for a Muslim Pakistani-American is all the more surprising because Granite Falls is a small mining town of 800 mostly blue-collar whites, a result that residents say would have been inconceivable not long ago.
After 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, Saleem told the Associated Press that community members reached out, letting him know he was one of them. No one seems to notice that his wife, Bushra, attends social events wearing a traditional shalwar-kamiz.
While Saleem is only the second American mayor of Pakistani origin after Dr. M. Ali Chaudry of New Jersey town of Basking Ridge elected in 2001, others have been elected to public offices in different parts of the country. Masroor Javed Khan, a fellow NEDian and a friend, serves on the city council in Houston, Texas. Saghir Tahir is a member of the New Hampshire State Assembly. Saqib Ali is a legislator in Maryland State.
Since the growth of immigration from Pakistan and other non-European nations starting in 1965, the Pakistani-American community has not been particularly politically active, but the trend is now changing, with the community starting to contribute funds to their candidates of choice in both parties, and running for elected office in districts with large Pakistani-American populations. In recent times, Pakistani-American candidates have run for various offices across the nation. Because the community is geographically dispersed, the formation of influential voting blocs has not generally been possible, making it difficult for the community to make an impact on politics in this particular way. However, there are growing efforts on the part of community leaders to ensure voter registration and political participation.
The US Census Bureau has indicated that there are about 210,000 US citizens of Pakistani descent living in the United States, including permanent residents. The Census Bureau, however, excluded the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters from all population groups. The Pakistani embassy estimates the number of people of Pakistani origin living in the United States to be much higher, close to 500,000.
According to estimates published by the Wikipedia, 50% of Pakistani Americans have origins in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. About 30% are Urdu-speaking "Muhajirs" and the rest is made up of other ethnic groups from Pakistan. The most systematic study of the demography of Pakistanis in America is found in Prof. Adil Najam's book 'Portrait of a Giving Community' (Harvard University Press, 2006), which estimates a total of around 500,000 Pakistanis in America with the largest concentrations in New York and New Jersey states, each with around 100,000 Pakistani Americans.
Here are a few demographic snapshots of Pakistani-Americans in different parts of the United States:
A 2008 LA Times survey of Pakistani-Americans, conducted on the basis of the 2000 Census, found that Californians of Pakistani descent numbered about 28,000, double the population of 1990. Community members say the figure now surpasses 40,000.
The data showed that 56 per cent had undergraduate or graduate degrees, the second-highest rate after Indian-Americans among 16 Asian subgroups examined. Nearly half were home-owners, with the median household income about $49,000, on par with the state-wide average. Two-thirds were immigrants, with a 46 per cent naturalization rate, and the majority were fluent English speakers.
Based on my own knowledge and experience of living in California for decades, the estimate of $49,0000 median household income of Pakistani-Americans appears to be too outdated and too low, particularly for the San Francisco Bay Area where I conservatively estimate it to be higher than $100,000.