An Open Letter On Behalf of the Pakistani Community: We Are Asking For Community-Based Organization Representation at the Pakistan Day Parade

Sakhi for South Asian Women was proud to be present at the Pakistan Day Parade held on August 1, 2010.   Our goal in attending the Pakistani Day Parade this year and in years past has been to raise awareness about free services offered by community-based organizations like Sakhi that help strengthen the South Asian community.  We also celebrate our heritage alongside the Pakistani members of our community.   Unfortunately, each year our attendance at this event seems to be marked by needless controversy.

This year, we were not able to secure official permission to march because we could not afford the $1000 fee required by the Pakistan Day Parade Committee (PDPC), despite the fact that we provide free services to the community.  Sakhi volunteers, instead, walked along the parade route on the sidewalks as unofficial participants.  We distributed information to the Pakistani community in attendance about services available if women find themselves facing violence in their homes.  Having language capacity in major South Asian languages like Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and Punjabi, we can help overcome the language barriers that can prevent immigrant populations from accessing the rights and opportunities available to them in this country.

The PDPC forces disproportionate fees on non-profit, community-based organizations to march.  They seem oblivious to the larger need to advance the status of the entire Pakistani community in New York.  Official attendees of the Pakistan Day Parade are dominated by commercial interests.  Floats and stalls for businesses, television stations, and telecommunications companies are welcomed.  Community organization presence was non-existent.  The response to Sakhi’s unofficial presence by the parade-goers themselves – the vibrant and growing Pakistani-American community – was that of friendly appreciation of our work. Community members not only took Sakhi’s information, but also gave us a thumbs-up, congratulated us for our work and even shared their own experiences in this country. In short, the crowd gave us support for tirelessly working for 21 years to end violence in our own communities.

Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) play a central role in establishing the well-being of immigrant populations in the United States.  CBOs such as Sakhi, Turning Point, SAYA, and SALGA all have varying missions but we each work towards the advancement of our communities. Despite our work however, the South Asian community, including the Pakistani community remains an underserved population in need.  It is also one of the most scrutinized communities in the United States in the context of 9-11.  Collectively, we are all working to fill the gap in services for our communities while at the same time presenting our expertise about our communities’ needs to the institutions of power that govern our lives in New York and the country.

At Sakhi our pool of staff, board members, interns, and volunteers, and the women we serve includes a strong mix of Pakistanis.  We feel the pain alongside Pakistani and Muslim communities as they receive unfair criticism, scrutiny, and persecution in the wake of terrorist attacks by extremists.   Pakistanis are a vibrant and growing community here in New York.  We celebrate the diverse heritage of the Pakistani people in the United States.

No matter what the reasons behind the PDPC’s decision to exclude community-based organizations from marching, the end result is detrimental to us all.  The Pakistan Day Parade is a once-a-year unmatched gathering of Pakistani families that allows for important messaging to the community.   Requiring payment from community-based organizations simply to march and share information overlooks the fact that non-profits use their limited resources to provide free services and support to our communities — and not to generate profits.  We inform women about their rights in this country.  We help them to find safety.   We employ many in the South Asian community.  We offer internships and volunteer opportunities for our young people, preparing them for the real world job market. We hope that the PDPC in the future will rejoice with us in the accomplishments we have worked toward for the past 21 years and recognize that together, can empower the South Asian community as a whole.