More than a thousand people celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day at a Sunday parade and festival in Hicksville.
Marchers waved Pakistan’s deep green and white flag to the sound of traditional music from floats traveling down South Broadway, culminating the half-mile route to a large open-air party near the Long Island Rail Road station.
The parade celebrated the national holiday a week early; Pakistan gained independence from Britain on Aug. 14, 1947.
This year’s second-annual Pakistan Day Parade was a commemoration of the growing Pakistani presence in Long Island and a way to share the community’s message of peace, said Zeshan Hamid, parade organizer and founder of Council On PAK US Relations.
“As Pakistanis and as Muslims, we do get a pushback. Every politician doesn’t like to come and stand with us, or for us,” Hamid said. “The opportunity is to go meet and to give the proper message of Pakistan, to get accepted in places where we might not have been accepted before.”
Residents say the South Asian community has grown markedly during the past few decades, and continues to swell. Hamid called Hicksville a “hub of diversity” where there is greater minority representation than most other areas of Long Island.
The state religion in Pakistan is Islam, which is practiced by the majority of the population.
Amir Khan, a British professional boxer, served as grand marshal for the parade. Featured guests also included Bollywood singer Ali Zafar and Consul General of Pakistan Raja Ali Ejaz. Hempstead Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad, who is of Pakistani heritage, also addressed the crowd Sunday, urging them to be ambassadors for Pakistani culture and the Muslim faith.
“We left our homes looking for a better way of life and we did it,” Ahmad said. “Get involved in this country, make your mark, this is your home.”
Nearly 20 percent of Hicksville’s 42,000 residents are Asian, according to the 2010 census. This is a significant increase from 9 percent in 2000.
Brooklyn resident Zahid Mehmood, an NYPD officer, attended the parade with about 30 other Pakistani American NYPD officers. Mehmood said he faces challenges as a Pakistani American police officer, and said it was important to address multicultural knowledge and emphasize the positivity of the Pakistani community.
“We live here. We are New Yorkers and we want people to see our culture,” said Mehmood, who is also the president of the Pakistani American Law Enforcement Society.
Hana Mustafa, 30, of Bay Shore, brought her three children to the parade so they could be surrounded by their heritage.
“Our kids were born here and it’s very important for the new generation to know our values, the culture, the language,” she said.