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Parade along Madison Avenue Celebrates Pakistani Community

By Mary Johnson | August 1, 2011 3:00pm
People piled onto  floats to celebrate Pakistan's independence from Britain in 1947.
People piled onto floats to celebrate Pakistan's independence from Britain in 1947.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN —  A stretch of Madison Avenue between 23rd and 38th streets was awash Sunday in the green and white of the Pakistani flag.

The annual Pakistan Day Parade and festival, which celebrates the country’s independence from Britain on August 14, 1947, was held Sunday so it wouldn't interfere with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins today.

Many at the event saw the festival as a reason to come together and celebrate their roots, with passengers on the floats dancing, singing and waving green flags emblazoned with a white crescent moon and a star, periodically chanting “Pakistan.”

Others saw it as an opportunity to dispel misconceptions about Pakistan, especially as tensions have risen since the U.S. killed Osama Bin Laden in a Pakistani city in May.

“We're showing Americans we’re not bad people," said Nissa Alun, 24, who came to New Jersey from Pakistan five years ago. “We’re human beings too.”

Sunday marked Alun’s first time attending the parade and festival. She said it reminded her of being home.

“We love America,” she said. “We love Pakistan too because that’s our country.”

The love of two countries carried across the festival. Children on one float waved both Pakistani and American flags. A sign on another vehicle read, “America & Pakistan, United We Stand.” 

Vendors set up near Madison Square Park to sell traditional clothing and cuisine like chicken kebabs and $5 cups of sugarcane juice made fresh in the bed of a pick-up truck.   

Staff working for a 3-month-old online dating site for Pakistanis attempted to lure many of the young passersby with membership forms and a large green sign that read, “Your search for the perfect Pakistani partner ends here.”

Amina Khawaja, 27, who was born in the United States after her parents immigrated from Pakistan 35 years ago, said her family comes to the parade every year.

"I think it’s one of the best things the city has to offer us," Khawaja said as she bounced her 10-month-old nephew, Zak, on her hip.

She hoped it could help open other New Yorkers' eyes to her country's culture. She said she often encounters Americans who believe Pakistan and Islam are defined by terrorism and aggression.

“I feel so bad when I see Americans being so ignorant about our culture,” she said.

Though her family visits Pakistan every year and she finds much to love about that country, she appreciates what life in America offers.

“We have freedom,” she said. “That’s not something you have there at all.”

Khawaja’s father, Tariq, agreed.

Tariq said he misses his family and his hometown, but he has a good job and a peaceful and safe place to raise his family, he said.

“I never envisioned that I would spend the rest of my life here,” said Tariq, who works for the New York City Department of Design and Construction.

"[But] our life is here."