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.
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