I was a founding member of the Pakistani-American community in Southern California. I arrived in Los Angeles on March 3, 1967, enrolled at Pasadena City College, and gained tremendous practical experience as a nighttime stock clerk at a company that made instruments with thousands of small parts. I received my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cal State-Los Angeles in 1971. The state governor’s signature on my diploma was Ronald Reagan.
The brain drain that I was part of was very sad for Pakistan, but very good for America. Most of the Pakistani immigrants of my generation were professionals – doctors and engineers – and they brought with them not only professional skills, but great entrepreneurial energy and a belief in America as the land of opportunity.
Washington, D.C. just doesn’t connect with immigrant communities. America’s lawmakers and policymakers should have asked themselves, “Where do we want to be in twenty years?” and planned accordingly. Immigrant communities have not been given the respect that they deserve. The historical truth is that America is a nation of immigrants, and immigrants built America.
A constant fresh influx of immigrants is very important for America. But today the country as a whole is suffering, because the brain drain from the Third World that benefited America for so long is going into reverse. What made America is dying. After acquiring best practices from America, many talented immigrants are returning to their countries of origin.
Pakistani-Americans are one of the most highly skilled and productive of recent immigrant communities. Doctors are needed everywhere, and Pakistani doctors are, almost literally, everywhere in America. Coming from a country with weak institutions and a history of dictatorship, Pakistani doctors – and engineers, like me – appreciate America and are willing to work in places where many American professionals are not.
But Pakistanis and other Muslims are not included to the extent we should be in this country’s public life. Part of it is our own fault: Muslims in America have never had a collective voice. We are too divided among ourselves. Many of us are also either too busy working hard to make a better life for our children, or afraid to say anything out of fear. And these days, with the presidential nominee of a major political party making overtly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant threats, our fears are all too real.
I am one of tens of thousands of professionals who came to America from Pakistan and, frankly, helped make this country what it is. I mean that literally: nothing can be built without engineers. And, for at least twenty years, the number of American engineering graduates has been declining. America doesn’t have enough engineers. And you need engineers – and doctors – even if you have to go to Pakistan to get them.
Pervaiz Lodhie is founder and CEO of LEDtronics, a pioneering LED lighting company based in Torrance, California. He is currently writing an autobiography, Lighting the Way: An Innovator’s Journey in Pakistan and America.