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In Sacramento, consul general helps celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day

One-year-old Noraiz Ali points at a Pakistani flag that was to be lifted onto the stage Sunday during a celebration of Pakistan’s Independence Day at Cesar Chavez Park.
One-year-old Noraiz Ali points at a Pakistani flag that was to be lifted onto the stage Sunday during a celebration of Pakistan’s Independence Day at Cesar Chavez Park. lsterling@sacbee.com

The Pakistani government has redoubled its efforts to “subdue and eradicate extremists of every caste, hue and shape” even as the threat of terrorism worldwide remains potent, said the country’s consul general Sunday while joining in the celebrations of Pakistan’s Independence Day at Cesar Chavez Plaza in Sacramento.

Based in Los Angeles, Hamid Khan said his country has devoted considerable resources to fighting extremists. That cooperation with the U.S. has stirred some resentment back home, media reports indicate.

“Terrorism is a global menace,” Khan said. “More than 176,000 members of the Pakistani army have been deployed in a focused, intelligence-based operation in what is known as the mountainous tribal areas along the Afghan border.”

That strong message punctuated a day otherwise celebrating the region’s Pakistani community, which originated here more than half a century before Pakistan became a country.

Khan called local Pakistanis “perhaps the oldest Pakistani community we have on the West Coast” and said “we are proud of what it does to honor its heritage.” South Asians have some of the deepest roots in the region, arriving from Punjab to farm and attend college here in the 1890s. On Sunday, a green-and-white Pakistani flag as well as the Stars and Stripes framed the stage.

Event organizer Ras Siddiqui of the Pakistan Association of Sacramento said the oldest Pakistani organization in California originated in Sacramento, centered on the Muslim mosque on V Street downtown.

Like others, Siddiqui said he feels the pride of Pakistan’s independence in his bones, with his great uncle Latif “Red” Bijnori having fought against colonial British rule.

The uncle spent years in British prisons with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India’s first prime minister, said Siddiqui, whose clan was divided by the partition that cleaved the territory into India and Pakistan. “The conservative side stayed in India, while the progressives, including my parents, moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital,” he said.

Sunday’s event came on the heels of Saturday’s India Day – themed “Unity in Diversity” – at the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake. Indians and Pakistanis have enjoyed great success here, with Californians born in India earning a median household income of $110,000 in 2013, and almost 80 percent of South Asian adults in California having at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 60,000 Indians and more than 20,000 Pakistanis live in the Sacramento region.

If anything, Sunday’s event served to break stereotypes about Muslim women. Sixteen-year-old Eehza Imran sported long, flowing blue locks, rather than the head scarves many women from the region wear.

“My parents let me dye my hair,” said Imran, who came here when she was 3. “Most people don’t even know where Pakistan is – I have to show them.”

She worked a clothing booth with the Iqbal sisters – Faizah, 21, and Rifet, 32 – and displayed multicolored bangles, embroidered purses and salwar kameez outfits.

“Pakistan is not the religious fanatics who make the headlines,” said Siddiqui, who also helps run the online newspaper Pakistani Link. “Pakistani women go out and work in offices and fields.”

Rashid Ahmed, 68, said he was a baby when his family left India by truck for Pakistan in 1947.

“It’s a great feeling of joy to know the Pakistani experiment has survived.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed Aug. 10 to correct Pakistani Consul General Hamid Khan’s statement in the second paragraph about his country devoting resources to fighting extremists.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini

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