Aid Efforts Unite Pakistanis, Indians in U.S.

The South Asia earthquake has mobilized Pakistani and Indian residents of the Jackson Heights section of Queens, N.Y. People with roots in the divided region of Kashmir are donating money, organizing relief efforts and overcoming the traditional animosity that has divided the two groups for decades.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Back to the earthquake now and efforts here in the US to help. The Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens is home to one of New York's largest enclaves of South Asians. Its streets are lined with Pakistani kebab houses and Indian sari shops. The community has always been close-knit, and as Dina Temple-Raston reports, it's working together to help victims of the earthquake.

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DINA TEMPLE-RASTON reporting:

You could be forgiven for feeling transported to South Asia while walking through Jackson Heights. The smell of flame-broiled Pakistani kebabs and Indian curry suffuses the air. The Punjab music store blares the latest South Asian fare from speakers on the sidewalk. And Pakistani residents break their Ramadan fasts to slip into one of 74th Street's South Asian restaurants for a $7.99 buffet. The talk here is all about Saturday's devastating earthquake in Kashmir.

Mr. TOUSSAR HUSSEIN(ph) (Owner, Sheereen Mahal Restaurant): Tears automatically comes from the eyes, you know, to see this kind of disaster. It's a big, big disaster

TEMPLE-RASTON: Toussar Hussein has owned Sheereen Mahal Restaurant, a Pakistani diner on 74th Street, for 17 years. He sits just a arm's length from a steam table filled with chicken kebabs and flat loaves of bread. His brother-in-law is a Pakistani policeman working in the rescue effort in Kashmir.

Mr. HUSSEIN: He was helping with other people with the police because he's also in the police. And he's ...(unintelligible) that's where you cannot believe it. We are breaking the walls and taking out from the dead bodies and the live people. So many people don't have legs, so many don't have any arms, you know, so many Indian peoples.

TEMPLE-RASTON: With tens of thousands dead, Pakistani and Indian residents in Jackson Heights have been moved to action. Just two days after the tragedy, a local restaurant held an iftar, or dinner, to raise money. Shiv Das heads the Jackson Heights Merchants' Association. He says he's still trying to figure out where to send the hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by the hundreds of diners. Das is from India's Punjab province.

Mr. SHIV DAS (Jackson Heights Merchants' Association): We are working with the Pakistani community and they are thinking to make a fund-raising appeal and we will join them and support them. We will donate money.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This neighborly solidarity, Indians standing shoulder to shoulder with Pakistanis, belies the traditional animosity that has divided the two groups. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to Kashmir, the epicenter of last week's quake. They have fought two wars over the territory, but those tensions have been temporarily suspended. Pakistan said earlier this week that it would accept India's offer of food and medical relief. Shiv Das says that was to be expected.

Mr. DAS: I was not surprised because this is the Indian people and the Pakistani people, basically they're the same thinking. This is just politics.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Meanwhile, the fund-raising efforts around New York are picking up steam. The Queens-based Islamic Circle of North America has set aside half a million dollars for earthquake victims. Islamic Relief USA has launched a $10 million appeal for donations. The Pennsylvania-based Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America will send three doctors to the region this weekend. Sanita Kanwar(ph), behind a brightly lit jewelry counter at Krishna Jewelers in Jackson Heights, says the support should not surprise anyone.

Ms. SANITA KANWAR (Krishna Jewelers): If you feel that you feel good in giving, you'll feel good--How would you say?--you'll have good Karma, you know, without having hope of receiving anything. When it comes to calamities and when it comes to disasters and the need for help, we will pool together.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Jackson Heights Merchants' Association, a group of small-business owners along 74th Street, immediately raised $5,000 for earthquake victims. It hopes to find an additional 20,000 by the end of the month. For NPR News, I'm Dina Temple-Raston.

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