The nation of Pakistan celebrates its 64th birthday this Sunday and, as usual, this occasion will provoke Pakistani Americans to consider what obstacles the South Asian country faces and the direction that it’s heading. This year the area’s largest Pakistan independence party was held in suburban Bolingbrook. Organizers held the event in July so the festivities would not coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
These rowdy teenage boys are chanting “Pakistan zindabad," or “long live Pakistan.” The slogan fits right in at this Pakistan independence celebration at the grounds of Bolingbrook’s Performing Arts Center. Nearly five thousand have come for the festivities and that means there are plenty of people to answer this question: Pakistan’s got some serious troubles. Its economy stinks. It can’t educate most of its kids, and there’s a lot of political violence. So what, exactly, are Pakistani-Americans celebrating?
At the entrance of the park grounds, I find Dr. Mujahid Ghazi.
GHAZI: I’m here to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence day which is my birth country. I feel proud of this event because you know what all the stuff that is going on the hardships, the killings, the targeted killings, the corruption and out of that if some people want to rejoice and remember the independence day, then I am with them.
Standing nearby is 21-year-old Ali Zaidi. He’s sporting the Pakistani cricket team’s green athletic jersey. For the record, Ali trusts the Pakistan cricket team … but the government?
ZAIDI: I don’t trust the Pakistani government at all and the reason being is that what they promised they haven’t fulfilled.
The festival offers a lot of stuff to buy, of course. Inside tents packed with clothing and jewelry, I find 18-year-old Mariam Kamal. She is brutally honest while she eats her mango Kulfi, a kind of Pakistani Ice cream.
Kamal says she’s not so patriotic.
KHAN: But you’re here celebrating at the festival--why?
KAMAL: Because my parents forced me to.
Parents and dictatorships--both feared in Pakistani culture. Another attendee, Haaris Ahmad is a father.
HAARIS: My son was saying to me that why are we coming out and supporting this event? And the issue is you have to separate the government from the people.
KHAN: How long do you think Pakistanis have to wait before we start to see conditions get better in Pakistan?
HAARIS: It’s a country with a lot of potential, a lot of good people just lacking the will to take control of things themselves.
I catch the smell of smoked Tandoori Chicken and kabobs, and follow it up to the top of a large hill. That’s where families like Amna Shah’s sit to enjoy some music.
KHAN: What are you celebrating, like Pakistan faces so many problems today. There’ s problem after problem, the country has been struck with strife again and again…
SHAH: Right. I think Pakistan was built on hope and we still have that hope somewhere you know that down the road Pakistan will be bigger and better…
“Hope.” It’s a buzzword I get from a lot of people at the Pakistan Independence festival. Dozens tell me “hope” is what keeps them believing in Pakistan. Some people, like Dr. Mohamed Murtaza Arain, remind me that Pakistan was built to create better lives for Muslims. At least, that was the hope when Pakistan split from India in 1947.
ARAIN: The Hindus and Muslims in Indiahad nothing in common. So I believe in two nation theory. Even though we didn’t realize the full potential of Pakistan but I’m not giving up yet because in 1776 the forefathers of America under the leadership of George Washington created what we know as the United States of America, from Britain.
He swears there’s a point to this history lesson.
ARAIN: And hundred years after independence this country nearly split into two: North and South. Thanks to Lincoln the country and the Union was saved. So 64 years is really a very small time in the history of a nation.
KHAN: So, you’re waiting for the Pakistani Abraham Lincoln?
ARAIN: Yes, I am waiting and who knows you might be looking at one!
The Pakistan Independence festival goes into the night. Before I leave, I hear that Pakistani-Americans here feel conflicted. They’re willing to point out shortcomings in Pakistan as a nation, but they like being connected to that country, too. It’s a mix of celebration and condemnation, a mix of feelings that doesn’t get in the way of a good party.