SAN RAMON -- It's not all song and dance.
Sure, most of the youths in this year's Pakistani culture show smile at the thought of performing onstage the routines they've practiced for weeks, and in some cases months, for the annual Mashal show.
"We get to see friends and it's fun to learn new things," said 8-year-old Rameen Khan, of San Ramon, one in a group of 16 kids who will recite a poem in Urdu by Pakistani poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal.
But these children, who live in or near the Tri-Valley, are also getting an education. They are learning about the Pakistani traditions and culture of their parents and grandparents.
Mashal, a Tri-Valley Pakistani-American group, with members throughout the Bay Area, has been putting on the show for the past three years. This year about 130 performers and some 600 people are expected to attend the April 9 event at the Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center.
The show, in many ways, is the heart of what Mashal is all about, passing on tradition and showing others what it means to be Pakistani. "Mashal" is Urdu for "torch" or "beacon."
Parents could tell their children about what the culture is like and let them see it, said Faraz Sattar, Mashal's president.
"A better way to do that is to give them the opportunity to do it," he said.
Mashal was founded in 2008 in part to help engage the Tri-Valley's growing Pakistani-American community. The first culture show came the following
The group's goal is political awareness and accountability, connecting with local politicians and youth involvement.
Mashal has also hosted cricket camps for children and Urdu language classes.
According to 2010 U.S. census data, the Tri-Valley's Asian population has swelled in the past 10 years.
The Asian population in Danville, Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon more than doubled, from 25,232 to 65,575.
Many Pakistani-Americans were lured to the area by new houses in East Dublin and in San Ramon's Dougherty Valley -- an area of good schools and safe suburban communities. The organization and its show has helped bond the new residents.
"It's bringing the community closer together," said Sadaf Sattar, wife of Faraz Sattar and the show's co-director.
Parents of participants don't mind helping out. They've opened up their homes for practices, of, sometimes, dozens of children. Parents say it's important their kids have that connection with their heritage.
"I want to keep the culture alive for them, the tradition alive for them," said parent Nashrah Moin, of Danville, whose two children are participating in this year's show.
Nine-year-old Zara Fatteh will be one of the little performers. She loves to sing and dance, and says the show has broadened her horizons.
"I'm learning more songs," said the Pleasanton fourth-grader. "I'm learning more of my language."
The group is not just ethnic-centric. It wants to engage the community at large. Local San Ramon Valley leaders have been invited to the show, and all are welcome.
In the past year, the group has participated in the Danville Fourth of July parade and in October held a walk to raise money for the victims of the floods in Pakistan and has participated in and co-sponsored other Bay Area events.
Engaging the community and Pakistani-American youths helps dispel stereotypes, said Faraz Sattar. A show like this, especially for those not familiar with Pakistan or its people, can show what the people are really like, instead of what is often portrayed in the media, Faraz Sattar said.
The show includes dances, music, a fashion show and a comedy segment.
"We want them to see the culture," Faraz Sattar said. "We want them to see the dances. ... This is how we grew up in Pakistan. This is what we are passing on to our children."
Contact Sophia Kazmi at 925-847-2122. Follow her at Twitter.com/sophiakazmi.
What: Mashal's 2011 cultural show "Virsa"
When: 6 to 10:30 p.m. April 9
Where: Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center, 10550 Albion Road, San Ramon
Cost: Includes dinner; $25 adults, $15 children 2 to 12 years; free for children younger than 2. Tickets available at the box office, by calling 925-973-3343 or by going to www.sanramon.ca.gov/parks/theater.