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San Francisco Celebrates Pakistan's Independence
Ras H. Siddiqui

Aug. 2002 -  The 55th. Independence Day of Pakistan was celebrated with fervor on August 17, 2002 at the world famous Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. More than five thousand people of Pakistani origin, their friends, a number of city officials, candidates running for elected office, and many onlookers showed up to see the red, white and blue colors of the United States blend in with the green and white of Pakistan on this busy Saturday. And to this scenario if you add one of the most beautiful locales in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, it should come as no surprise that this annual Pakistani Independence Day celebration has become a “must attend” part of our community social calendar here in Northern California.
It was a very cool afternoon in San Francisco when we drove in at around 1 pm just in time to hear the call to prayer, or Azaan at the Band Shell. Finding a spot to park ones car is always the most difficult part of this journey for members of our community who come here mainly from Silicon Valley, from as as far as Reno, Nevada and from throughout California’s Central Valley all the way to the Oregon state border. For years, this has been the largest annual gathering of Pakistanis in the Western United States but with increasing competition from the Los Angeles region, let us say that we are now running neck to neck to this “largest” claim.
The Pakistan Association of San Francisco Bay Area has been hosting Pakistan’s Independence Day programs in San Francisco for over two decades. And when Mr. Akhtar Shah bid everyone welcome on behalf of the association and invited poet Ms. Noshi Jilani to the stage I could not help but recall that this was my 9th or 10th appearance here. And it is great to report that Mashallah our Pakistani community is larger but still as colorful, talented and industrious as ever.
Speaking of talent, Urdu Poetess Noshi Jilani exemplifies it. She immediately invited Dr. Jahangir Hamdani to give the first keynote speech. Hamdani Sahib gave a brief background of the Pakistan movement, its genesis after the 1857 defeat of the Mughals and the advent of official British rule. He explained the background of the birth of the Muslim League, its accelerated growth after the parting of ways of M. A. Jinnah and Congress and the vision that culminated in the dream of Pakistan. He ended his speech with by saying a prayer (Dua) for Pakistan.
Akhtar Shah next came on to the stage as an award was announced for any child born on August 14th the independence day of Pakistan. A couple of children and teenagers came to the stage and young Usama Syed was the first to receive this award.
The second keynote speaker was Professor Ahmed Qadri who spoke in Urdu. He gave a fiery speech in which he projected the strength of the Pakistan ideal from poet Allama Iqbal’s vision and its role in the world today. He said that we live here in America but we still feel for Pakistan. He spoke of the need to teach our children about their Pakistani heritage and what Pakistan still means to us.
Mrs. Sahab Hamdani next echoed similar sentiments by reading her husband’s poetry. Needless to say that there is a great deal of literary and vocal talent in the Hamdani household.
Pakistan Association President Abdul Latif next came on to the stage and gave credit to all present for making this event successful. “This is your program”, he said. He then invited a number of speakers who all congratulated the Pakistani community on this celebration marking the birth of their country of origin. They included Japanese-American Mr. Jeff Adachi, San Francisco Deputy Police Chief David Robinson, Fire Department Chief Mario H. Travino, a representative from the California Governor’s office and the Assistant Police Chief of San Francisco. But as has been the case for the third year running, it was San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown who once again generated a great deal of interest. Mayor Brown has certainly made a number of friends in our community and likewise, we appreciate his friendship and show of support. The Mayor congratulated all present on Pakistan’s independence day and presented a proclamation to that effect.
But this year we have added another friend to our gathering. Sister Samina Fahim of the American Muslim Alliance (AMA) introduced California Green Party Candidate for Governor Mr. Peter Camejo and invited him to address the crowd. Peter gave a passionate speech on the civil rights, secret evidence, the Muslim experience post 9/11 and the differences between the Green Party and the Democrat and Republican mainstream. On terrorism, he both denounced it and also the double standards that are practiced in its definition. It would even be safe to assume that after Peter Camejo’s speech, a lot of California Pakistani-American voters will be “thinking green” in the voting booth this November.
The musical segment of this annual event is always the most popular. This year Abdul Sattar Tari Khan, Imran Hassan (a legend’s son), the very colorful Roohani Bano, Comedian Sakhi Kamal (PTV’s Fifty-Fifty fame) and vocalist Amjad Hussain gave powerful performances. Many national, folk and some film songs were sung, taking many of us down memory lane.
Republican Candidate for the U.S. Congress Syed Rifat Mahmood also spoke at this event. Mr. Mahmood is a long-time community activist who has been at the forefront of  our community participation in local politics. He has a tough election ahead of him and deserves our support. That also goes for Uzma Almakky, a Pakistani-American running for a seat on the school board (Fremont Unified School District). It was great to see the booths set up by the Pakistan-American Democratic Forum (PADF), AMA, the Green Party and Syed Mahmood. They send a political message both to and from our community that cannot be ignored. And on the social improvement efforts in Pakistan, the Hidaya Foundation booth was also a welcome sight.

As always, Pakistani food was a big hit this year too. Mehran Restaurant had a stall with a line so long that some people had to give up on eating lunch. Other locations serving snacks were just as crowded. But there was certainly something there for everyone.
In conclusion, a favorite part of this event is always the singing of the national anthem by the Pakistan Association Board members, the guest performers, and the entire gathering. This year it showed once again that the Pakistan spirit is strong in San Francisco. At least Four generations of our people were represented at this event. And thanks to the Association, our guest singers and musicians, the various sponsors and the thousands that make this trip every year, the green and white colors of Pakistan once again adorned the Band Shell at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The call to prayer (Azaan) was also heard here once again. Our people in traditional garments and the colorful attire of our women and children once again added to the sparkle of this park. Both Islam and Pakistan in post 9/11 America remain vibrant. And with that once again

              Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan) from all of us in Northern California.

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