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Pakistani-American Legislator Leads by Example


The United States is a nation of immigrants. Most have come in pursuit of the American Dream, to achieve success and prosperity in the land of opportunity. That's why Saghir Tahir came here from Pakistan over 30 years ago. He says his name, Saghir, means “small” and he is just trying to make a small contribution. But in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire where he lives, he is known as “Saggy.” As VOA's Brian Padden reports, Saggy's financial success and achievements in the world of politics are anything but small.

In 1972 Saghir Tahir left Lahore, Pakistan with about $100 to his name. Today he is a successful businessman and elected representative to the New Hampshire State Legislature in the New England region of the United States.

The secret to his success, he says, is hard work. "I wanted to take my kids out of the poverty cycle because I came from a poor family and to do that I had to work and I did work more than 16, 18, 20 hours a day, seven days a week to get ahead of the bunch."

In the 30 years since, "Saggy" -- as he is known just about everywhere in the state -- has prospered. He worked a variety of jobs, mostly in the construction field and invested in rental properties.

Saggy admits focusing all his energies on building his businesses left him with little time for his family. But it was a sacrifice he made for the greater good.

"I was married to the business rather than married to my wife," he admits.

They have tried to instill in their children the best of two cultures: the traditional sense of family and the equal opportunity to succeed. Sixteen-year-old daughter Sanam is the youngest in the family.

"Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a lot of Pakistani pride,” she says, “but I also have my American side."

In many ways Saggy had achieved the American dream of success and wealth. But in 1998 his son suggested that it was time for him to give back to the community by running for State legislator, an elected position that pays only $100 a year.

"Honestly speaking, I was a typical Pakistani with a lot of bias,” said Saggy. “I was convinced 100 percent that no one would vote for me other than my wife."

Despite these concerns Saghir Tahir ran for the legislature as a Republican candidate and lost in 1998. He said he lost because he didn't work hard enough. In 2000 he ran again. This time he actively campaigned and won with over 70 percent of the vote. Coming to the State Capitol he earned a reputation for both his work ethic and ethical standards.

The first time he spoke on the floor of the house was overwhelming. Saggy said, "They are talking about ethics. We are the judges of our actions. When was the last time the taxpayers approved for us to take a free lunch?"

He has since used his influence to promote the issues he cares about most, such as education and helping those in need. One day he brought a high-level delegation to a local homeless shelter to push for more support and funding.

He has also urges local Pakistani Americans to get more involved with their community here in New Hampshire. He tells them it is both a civic duty and a religious obligation.

"That's exactly what I am trying to remind my fellow American Muslims. God does not say you give back to the Muslims only. He says give back to my people. All people in the universe are his people, regardless of what religion they follow."

After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 Saggy Tahir, as a high-ranking Pakistani American official, felt compelled to try to ease the tension between the two countries. He led a group of local American leaders to Pakistan to help get beyond the negative stereotypes. One more case of leading by example.

"If you believe that you can make a difference in the lives of fellow human beings around you, in your community, in your state, in your country, you must offer your services. When you die, everything you do for yourself will die with you but everything you do for others will last for a long time."

Saghir Tahir has been raising money for the Pakistan earthquake victims. He also will lead a delegation to rebuild a destroyed school.