Pakistani-American has been elected mayor of a town in Washington state by a landslide. The 54-year-old Mayor-elect Haroon Saleem admits that running the Timberline Bar and Cafe, with beer ads plastered everywhere, is not exactly a pious following of Islam, which forbids alcohol consumption.
The big win for a Muslim Pakistani-American is all the more surprising because Granite Falls is a small mining town of 800 mostly blue-collar whites, a result that residents say would have been inconceivable not long ago.
After 911 attacks in New York and Washington, Saleem told the Associated Press that community members reached out, letting him know he was one of them. No one seems to notice that his wife, Bushra, attends social events wearing a traditional shalwar-kamiz.
While Saleem is only the second American mayor of Pakistani origin after Dr. M. Ali Chaudry of New Jersey town of Basking Ridge elected in 2001, others have been elected to public offices in different parts of the country. Masroor Javed Khan, a fellow NEDian and a friend, serves on the city council in Houston, Texas. Saghir Tahir is a member of the New Hampshire State Assembly. Saqib Ali is a legislator in Maryland State.
Since the growth of immigration from Pakistan and other non-European nations starting in 1965, the Pakistani American community has not been particularly politically active, but this is now changing, with the community starting to contribute funds to their candidates of choice in both parties, and running for elected office in districts with large Pakistani American populations. In recent times, Pakistani American candidates have run for various offices across the nation. Because the community is geographically dispersed, the formation of influential voting blocs has not generally been possible, making it difficult to for the community to make an impact on politics in this particular way. However, there are increasing efforts on the part of community leaders to ensure voter registration and political participation.
The U.S. Census Bureau has indicated that there are about 210,000 U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent living in the United States, including permanent residents. The Census Bureau, however, excluded the population living in institutions, college dormitories, and other group quarters from all population groups. The Pakistani embassy estimates the number of people of Pakistani origin living in United States to be much higher, closer to 500,000.
According to estimates published by the Wikipedia, 50% of Pakistani Americans have origins in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. About 30% are Urdu-speaking “Muhajirs” and the rest is made up of other ethnic Groups from Pakistan. The most systematic study of the demography of Pakistanis in America is found in Prof. Adil Najam’s book ‘Portrait of a Giving Community’ (Harvard University Press, 2006), which estimates a total of around 500,000 Pakistanis in America with the largest concentrations in New York and New Jersey states, each with around 100,000 Pakistani-Americans.
Here are a few demographic snapshots of Pakistani-Americans in different parts of the United States:
A 2008 LA Times survey of Pakistani-Americans, conducted on the basis of 2000 Census, found that Californians of Pakistani descent numbered about 28,000, double the population of 1990. Community members say the figure now surpasses 40,000.
The data showed that 56 per cent had undergraduate or graduate degrees, the second-highest rate after Indian-Americans among 16 Asian subgroups examined. Nearly half were home-owners, with the median household income about $49,000, on par with the state-wide average. Two-thirds were immigrants, with a 46 per cent naturalization rate, and the majority were fluent English speakers.
Based on my own knowledge and experience of living in California for decades, the estimate of $49,0000 median household income of Pakistani-Americans appears to be too outdated and too low, particularly for the San Francisco Bay Area where I conservatively estimate it to be higher than $100,000.
Unlike California, New York City’s Pakistani Americans are mostly newer and less-educated immigrants. They tend to experience greater poverty, earn less, speak less English and live in larger households than city residents as a whole in 2000, according to a census analysis by the Asian American Federation of New York.
Key profile statistics (involving 2000 census data unless stated otherwise) include the following:
1.From 1990 to 2000, New York City’s Pakistani American population grew from 13,501 to 34,310, or 154 percent – surpassing increases of 9 percent for the city overall and 71 percent for all Asian New Yorkers.
2. More than one-third (34 percent) of Pakistani American children and more than one-fourth (28 percent) of all Pakistanis in New York City lived in poverty – exceeding 30 percent of all children and 21 percent of all residents in the city.
3. Pakistani New Yorkers’ per capita income was $11,992 – about half of the city-wide figure ($22,402).
4. Two out of 3 elderly Pakistani Americans (67 percent) and nearly half (48 percent) of all Pakistani adults in New York City had “Limited English Proficiency” – markedly surpassing 27 percent of all elderly New Yorkers and 24 percent of all city adults.
5. New York City’s Pakistani American households averaged 4.1 occupants – far more than 2.6 city-wide.
6. Almost one-third (32 percent) of Pakistani American adults in New York City had not finished high school – compared with 28 percent of all adult New Yorkers.
7. With a 79 percent foreign-born population, New York City’s Pakistani Americans were more than twice as likely to be immigrants as city residents overall, of whom 36 percent were born outside the United States.
8. Most Pakistani Americans in the city lived in Queens, with 45 percent of Pakistani New Yorkers (15,604 people), or Brooklyn, with 41 percent (14,221). The rest of the city’s Pakistani population was distributed about evenly among the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.
According to the New York Times, the stretch of Devon Avenue in North Chicago also named for Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, seems as if it has been transplanted directly from that country. The shops are packed with traditional wedding finery, and the spice mix in the restaurants’ kebabs is just right.
The 2000 federal census counted over 18,000 Pakistanis in metropolitan Chicago, one of the largest concentrations of Pakistanis in the United States. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, community estimates in the late 1990s, however, ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, most of whom were either Urdu- or Punjabi-speaking Muslims. Like other South Asians, Pakistanis have commonly tended to settle in and around major urban areas, especially on the two coasts near New York and Los Angeles. Chicago and other inland cities such as Houston have also developed large and visible Pakistani communities.
Nationwide, Pakistanis appear to be prospering. The census calculated that mean household income in the United States in 2002 was $57,852 annually, while that for Asian households, which includes Pakistanis, was $70,047. By contrast, about one-fifth of young British-born Muslims are jobless, and many subsist on welfare.
Hard numbers on how many people of Pakistani descent live in the United States do not exist, but a book published by Harvard University Press on charitable donations among Pakistani-Americans, “Portrait of a Giving Community by Professor Adil Najam,” puts the number around 500,000, with some 35 percent or more of them in the New York metropolitan area. Chicago has fewer than 100,000, while other significant clusters exist in California, Texas and Washington, D.C.
New York Times estimate of 109,000 Pakistani-born American workers’ occupations include salesmen, managers or administrators, drivers, doctors and accountants as the top five categories.
Pakistani-Americans political participation remains woefully inadequate. But it’s good to see some signs that it is starting to happen at various levels starting from from local communities to state legislatures.