Editor’s note: Mohammad Zafar Baloch is a Pakistani journalist who is spending three weeks in The Seattle Times newsroom. He is currently a reporter for Express Tribune, an international newspaper in Quetta. He is participating in an International Center for Journalists exchange program.
Seattle’s Pakistanis gather at expat’s travel agency
Rizwan Samad came in 1977 to attend the University of Washington, and since 1985, has run a travel agency in the University District. “Now my travel agency is the center of the Pakistani community in Seattle to discuss about their issues here and find their solutions,” Samad said.
Special to The Seattle Times
Around 6,000 Pakistanis make the Seattle area their home, and while tech jobs have lured many of them, a significant number work in medicine and medical research, in tech jobs at Microsoft and as engineers at Boeing. Many run their own businesses.
Rizwan Samad was among the earliest arrivals. He came in 1977 to attend the University of Washington, and since 1985, has run a travel agency in the University District.
“Now my travel agency is the center of the Pakistani community in Seattle to discuss about their issues here and find their solutions,” Samad said.
In Pakistan, he said, it is part of the culture to invite friends for tea and have long conversations about whatever is happening. In the Seattle area, his travel agency serves as a kind of living room for the community.
Samad said the community celebrates all national and religious holidays, such as Eid, here in Seattle much as they used to in Pakistan.
In 1984, the community held its first celebration of Pakistan Independence Day, which is Aug. 14. Samad was the event’s organizer.
For him and many others in his community, the day is a time to reminisce about the history of the country, which declared its independence in 1947.
But for the American-born new generations, the cultural festivities bridge their American lifestyle with their Pakistani ancestry.
“We want our new generation born here in America to know our past, where we belong and who we are,” Samad said. “We want our new generation to join the American politics and play their role for the community.”
Samad says they want their kids to actively participate in every American activity as well as in ones that connect them to their Pakistani roots.
With the help of other Pakistani expats, Samad has been using his clout in the community to raise funds for people in Pakistan when a natural disaster hits.
The Pakistani community here in Seattle is running fundraising organizations to help Pakistanis affected by floods, earthquakes and others disasters, he said.
Samad and other members from his community are running three organizations: the Citizen Foundation, Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle and Human Development Fund. They collect money from Pakistani community here and send it to Pakistan to help the people in need.
A significant growth in the community in recent years has led some to advocate for a Pakistani consulate in the area that could issue visas to the expats to travel to their home country.
In the hope of lessening the expense of having to travel to Washington, D.C., for visa interviews, Samad and other community members have asked the Pakistani Consulate in Los Angeles to come to Seattle on a regular basis.
The Pakistani Consul General in L.A., Tasawar Khan, was in Seattle two weeks ago, using Samad’s travel agency as a makeshift office. Every six months, he explained, the consul general visits different states to help the Pakistan community with visas.
Mohammad Iqbal, 62, a supply manager at Boeing, was among those who came to the travel agency to arrange for a visa. Iqbal, who has been living in the area for 40 years after coming here to study, was planning a trip to see his parents.
“I came here for my visa to go Pakistan city Abbottabad to meet my family members. ... I want to go Pakistan first, then I will take my family members (his parents) to Umrah in Saudi Arabia, a holy place for Muslim world.”
Mohammad Zafar Baloch is a Pakistani journalist, who is spending three weeks in The Seattle Times newsroom. He is currently a reporter for Express Tribune, an international newspaper in Quetta. He is participating in an International Center for Journalists exchange program.