Our group of friends had a COVID era outing to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day which was on August 14. We all wore a touch of green, the color of the Pakistani flag- I even decorated a white mask with lace and a paper flag. It was at a famous Pakistani catering place called Shahnawaz Palace in Iselin, NJ and one of our friends Asif Siddiqui, had made all the arrangements in advance, which made it a splendid experience! The whole setup, the servicing method, the food -which has always been the best there is of Pakistani food- and the price was a terrific combination! As we lined up to get food, we were constantly reminded to keep distance, to keep masks on, and not to socialize on the lines. I appreciated their strictness to NJ guidelines. It was a small and quiet replacement of the pre-COVID annual Pakistan Day picnic put up by Javaid Syed and friends in Staten Island- an extravagant affair with tents, local officials’ speeches, entertainment, amazing foods and children activities.
A few days earlier, we had been chatting about how passionate we are about Pakistan and Pakistan Day celebrations, even if we have been in the US for 50 years or more. As usual, we debate if Pakistan is on the right track, and if the new leadership is achieving the change it promised. Will it conquer the evils of corruption? Will education be more widely available in Pakistan? Will we able to control overpopulation? And the questions go on and on. I for one belong to the school that sees the collective dilemma of all developing countries as a tremendous burden to overcome- all suffered from colonial plunder, brutality and occupation, and even in this globalized economy are at the mercy of the same forces keeping them under the thumb of the rich nations. And even if they succeed, they are crushed by some superpower, such as Afghanistan by Soviet Union, Iraq and Iran by USA, and Syria by multiple superpowers or crushed by their own corrupt leadership, e.g. many Asian and African nations. For me, it is a state of resigned acceptance combined with hope in the younger generations all across the world who will move us to a new way of being- one of global interdependence and respect and economic opportunity for all, so we don’t have a continuing global emigration/immigration crisis.
We as the Pakistani immigrant diaspora give generously to NGO’s to pay back our debt, and we also continue to display our passion and love for our traditions, our cuisine, our clothing, our poetry, our music and our values, e.g. hospitality. We try to integrate the multiple cultures we are privy to and take the best of all to create a new identity, a blended, holistic identity of interdependence and integration. It is not an “either or” question- are you either Pakistani or American? It is a blended hyphenated, sometimes multiple hyphenated identity- Pakistani American Muslim or preferably a global citizen identity that enjoys all cultures and their contributions. Our binary simplistic thinking might tell us we can only be passionate about one country or culture, but a more enlightened and evolved way of thinking is that all cultures have contributed throughout history, and just because one has migrated to another country out of economic necessity or opportunity, or physical survival, does not require you to abandon the rich heritage that is in your DNA. In fact, by bringing that culture into the mix, you are enriching the culture of where you now are a citizen, and at the same time building a culture of global consciousness and appreciation. In the meantime, Happy Independence Day to Pakistan! May its energetic, talented, hard-working younger generation get it out of its myriad of problems. And the handling of the COVID crisis has been a shining example at least!