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Hicksville festival celebrates Pakistan’s independence, culture

Hundreds of Pakistani-Americans gathered Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Hicksville for a festival and march celebrating the 70th anniversary of Pakistan's independence from British rule. The third annual parade featured a march, music, dancing, food and appearances from Pakistani celebrities. Credit: Johnny Milano

Hundreds of Pakistani-Americans gathered Sunday in Hicksville for a festival and march celebrating the 70th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence from British rule.

Pakistan was declared a sovereign nation in 1947, with its Independence Day observed Aug. 14.

Pakistan is “full of spice, colors,” said Saadi Kamal, of Selden. “The whole purpose of this parade is so people can see how we live and [so we can] explain our culture.”

The Hicksville event, which started on South Broadway and ended at the local Long Island Rail Road station, is in its third year of celebrating the anniversary with a march, music, dancing, food — and a game show featuring Pakistani celebrities, said Kamal, one of the event organizers from the Council On PAK US Relations.

He said the independence celebration is also an opportunity for Pakistani people on Long Island to show their love for their other homeland, America.

“We are one community and we stand together with everyone in this country,” Kamal said. “We are Pakistani-Americans and we love this country.”

The dark green and white of the country’s flag stood out among the vivid, saturated shades of pink, red, turquoise and orange of the crowd Sunday, as revelers dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing celebrated the nation’s freedom.

The event’s emcee, Rafia Rafiq, traveled to Long Island from Karachi, where she hosts a morning show and works as a dentist in Pakistan. She said it was important to her to participate in the Hicksville event and that she hopes that Pakistani-American youth would use the opportunity to learn more about the country’s formation.

“We need to tell the younger generation,” she said Sunday. “To maintain our identity, you have to have your own nation.”

After unrest between Hindus and Muslims in the region, Pakistan became independent in 1947 when the British left India and divided the subcontinent into two nations, with the former made up of a predominantly Muslim population and the latter mostly Hindus.

Nasrin G. Ahmad, town clerk for the Town of Hempstead, said Sunday’s event was a chance for Pakistanis to shatter stereotypes about the South Asian country and its culture that persevere in the West — including those about the role of women.

“The other Americans who don’t know Pakistani culture, when they come to this parade they’re going to see women, Pakistani, Muslim women, all dressed up, very proud in their beautiful garments,” said Ahmad, who is of Pakistani descent. “But they are not covering their face, they are walking with men, they are out there . . . what does it tell you? There’s a misconception that women are second-class citizens.”

The state religion in Pakistan is Islam, which is practiced by the majority of the population.

Nearly 20 percent of Hicksville’s 42,000 residents are Asian, according to the 2010 census — more than double the 9 percent they accounted for in 2000.

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