A Historic Day for Pakistani Americans

Sacramento, CA: For the first time in California history, the State Senate recognized the contributions of California’s Pakistani American community by adopting Senate Resolution 15 by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) declaring March 23rd, 2015 as “Pakistani American Day”.

Senate Resolution 15 was passed unanimously (32-0) by the California State Senate on March 26, 2015.

A special ceremony held on the Senate floor following the vote featured the Consul General of Pakistan Hamid Asghar Khan, Deputy Consul General of Pakistan Malik Qamar Abbas Khokhar, Artesia City Councilmember Ali Sajjad Taj, and Pakistani American dignitaries from throughout the state.

“Today, the California State Senate paid tribute to the contributions of the Pakistani American community to the diverse fabric of California. SR 15 declares March 23, 2015 as “Pakistani American Day” and provides the people of our state an opportunity to recognize the achievements, contributions, and history of this vibrant community,” said Senator Tony Mendoza.

“It's a great privilege and pleasure to be in Sacramento to witness the passing of this historic senate resolution. It is a fitting tribute to the patriotism, contributions and achievements of the Pakistani American diaspora in California. We at the Consulate General are proud of our community and express our gratitude to the Honorable Tony Mendoza for spearheading this meaningful and befitting resolution,” said Consul General of Pakistan, Hamid Asghar Khan.

“It is truly a historic moment for the Pakistani American community here in California. I know people have traveled from all over California and other States to witness this momentous occasion. I am excited to be a part of this day and I extend my sincerest thanks to Senator Mendoza for making this happen,” said Artesia Councilmember Ali Sajjad Taj.

Author of Senate Resolution 15 Senator Tony Mendoza, a Los Angeles native and former elementary school teacher, represents the 32nd Senate District of California. Previously, he has served for three terms as Artesia City Councilmember, as Artesia City Mayor and as California State Assembly Member. Senator Mendoza has been a staunch supporter of ethnic diversity throughout his public career and has sought to dismantle barriers to ensure that people of all ethnic backgrounds have equal access and opportunities. Added Senator Mendoza, “In California, Pakistani Americans are an integral part of our state, having made great contributions in the fields of finance, technology, law, medicine, education, sports, media, the arts, the military and government. It seems fitting that March 23, 2015 be celebrated as Pakistani American Day.”

Consul General Hamid Asghar Khan, who has recently joined the Consulate General of Pakistan in Los Angeles, initiated the idea for this Resolution. Since joining the Los Angeles office few months ago, the Consul General has been hard at work to improve the image of Pakistan on the West Coast of the United States and to engage the host community and the Pakistani American Diaspora. Two of the many laudable initiatives he undertook were: Holding a large vigil outside the Pakistan Consulate for victims of the Peshawar school massacre that was well attended by American media, politicians and high government officials, and inauguration of a community center at the Pakistan Consulate by Chairman House Foreign Affairs Committee Congressman Ed Royce.

Speaking on the occasion Consul General Khan made the incisive point in highlighting the importance of the March 26th event: “The significance of this resolution cannot be overstated. Pakistan is 75 years old and the first Pakistanis came and settled in this great state 70 years ago. This is the very first time that on the behest of a visionary leader, Senator Tony Mendoza, California Senate has recognized and acknowledged the tremendous contributions that the Pakistani American diaspora has made to the social fabric and the economy of the state.”

Artesia City Councilmember , Ali Sajjad Taj, who has the distinction of being the first City Councilmember of Pakistani descent on the West Coast of the United States, contributed tremendously in bringing the idea of this resolution to fruition. He campaigned hard and long, alongside Senator Mendoza, reaching across the aisle to Democrats and Republicans, to achieve this historic success and win richly deserved recognition for the Pakistani American community. Councilmember Taj said, “I was elated to see the jubilation on the Senate floor, many Senators came and congratulated me and others after the resolution was passed by a unanimous vote”.

Currently, there are nearly 47,000 people of Pakistani origin residing in California and approximately 10% of all exports from the United States to Pakistan is from California.

Ras Siddiqui adds: Pakistan Day falls on March 23 rd marking the day in 1940 when the passage of what later became known as the “Pakistan Resolution” occurred, which envisioned a new country for Muslims in what was then British India. That country today is known as Pakistan, a seemingly troubled land which continues to defy the skeptics. With over 180 million inhabitants, it is fighting extremism and poverty but at the same time has a contrasting and booming stock market, a strong military with a growing nuclear arsenal. It also has some significant representation in the arts (a recent Oscar Winner), the youngest Nobel Prize winner and is known for being the point of origin of some of the finest food and music around today.  And its Diaspora is also well-known. There are millions of Pakistanis outside of Pakistan working and contributing to their newly adopted lands, with over 400,000 (year 2010 census) here in America alone and close to 50,000 in the State of California. And the time had come for them to be recognized.

  At the California State Capitol on March 26, 2015 history was made in Sacramento when Senate Resolution 15 was introduced and passed unanimously (32-0) in the State chambers marking “Pakistani American Day” and through it recognizing the contributions of our community to the Golden State. Introduced by Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) who was accompanied here by elected Artesia City Council Member Ali Sajjad Taj, the resolution was a milestone event for those present, including the relatively new Consul General of Pakistan in Los Angeles Hamid Asghar Khan.

To quote some lines from the resolution text here: “Whereas, With diligence, fortitude and an enduring belief in the American dream, Pakistani immigrants have helped to turn emergent areas within the State of California into thriving and respectable communities, while raising their children to be productive Pakistani-Americans; and Whereas Pakistani Americans have become an integral part of mainstream American society and have made important contributions as Californians in the fields of finance, technology, law, medicine, education, sports, media, the arts, the military and government, as well as other areas; and Whereas there remains much to be done to ensure that Pakistani Americans have access to resources, have a voice in the United States government and continue to advance in the civic landscape of the United States; and Whereas, Celebrating Pakistani American Day provides the people of the United States with the opportunity to recognize the achievements, contributions and history of Pakistani Americans, and to appreciate the challenges faced by Pakistani Americans; and Whereas, as the Pakistani American community prepares for a new era and creates a new history, Pakistani Americans must instill in younger generations the proper appreciation of the courage and values of their forefathers……” Resolved by Senator Tony Mendoza, that he recognizes March 23, 2015 as Pakistani American Day, and commends the many residents and organizations throughout the State of California, that have supported and promoted the culture, traditions and achievements of Pakistani Americans.”  (Dated this 26 th day of March, 2015 signed by the Honorable Tony Mendoza 32 nd Senatorial District)

  If one was to expand on examples of just a couple of the contributions of Pakistani Americans in California, one founded a computer company (AST Research) and put our community on the technology radar not only in this state but worldwide. The second is currently protecting America’s sensitive networks and is a leader in Cyber Security (FireEye). And if one were to go back in history, the country of Pakistan itself has made significant contributions to the free world as a whole by risking its own security while aiding US Foreign policy strategically and materially in the fight against totalitarianism. And several Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans have themselves risked their lives to help in the past and continue to do so in the present to keep our adopted country secure.

 At a follow-up reception in a room just outside the California State Senate some leaders from our community from southern California, the San Francisco Bay area, Stockton, the greater Sacramento area appeared visibly moved by the ceremony which had just taken place. Many of us have been here for over 4 decades and are now part and parcel of this country, in both mind and spirit ,but Pakistan too is a part of our life. We would like to see our country of origin do well and get out of its current difficulties.

 At a luncheon a bit later at the Hyatt Regency Hotel across the street hosted by the Pakistani American Sports and Cultural Organization (PASCO) the community once again gathered, this time to acknowledge the assistance of the Mayor and a City Council Member from the nearby suburb of Elk Grove for a cricket tournament held last year and to be held again on April 4 th and 5 th (at Hal Bartholomew Sports Park, 10150 Franklin High Rd, Elk Grove, California - 9 AM to 10 PM - this coming weekend).  At the lunch Consul General Hamid Asghar Khan took the opportunity to interact with community leaders from all over the region and to present Mayor Gary Davis and Council Member Steve Ly small tokens of appreciation. Representatives of the Pakistan Association of San Francisco, the Pakistani American Association of Sacramento, AMV Foundation and other groups were represented here including some from the Los Angeles area (including Pakistan Link’s Arif Mansuri). One local Pakistani-American leader described the day as the happiest in his life!

The significance of this day for Pakistani Americans is increased manifold because this event was held in Sacramento, California, a region where possibly the oldest Pakistani community resides in this country. Some families here can trace their ancestors back to the early 1900’s when Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs arrived in California to work in California’s agricultural sector. Since this influx was only of males, many of these men married Mexican women and mixed religion families were common. Later, just like Partition happened in British India, the community here was divided into the Pakistani and Indian identities in 1947, when the oldest Mosque in the west was also founded the same year (and still exists at 411 V Street in Downtown Sacramento).  Later when Asian exclusion laws ended women from Pakistan also joined the community. Predominantly Muslim Punjabi, Hindko and Pashto speakers have lived here for several generations. It was good to note that some of their representatives were present here to see this Senate Resolution passed, recognizing their contributions and their identity. The only question that comes to mind now is: why did it take so long?

Thanks are in order for all the supporters of this effort from within the Pakistani American community and we hope that this is a beginning which our next generation can build upon. And our sincere thanks to Senator Tony Mendoza, for introducing this resolution, and to all members of the California Senate, who supported it. 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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