Immigrant son becomes mayor of major UK city

Mohammed Afzal Khan, who arrived in the UK in the 1970's as a bewildered 12-year-old who spoke no English, has become the first Asian lord mayor of the British city of Manchester.

Twenty percent of Manchester's 400,000 citizens are nonwhite. Now they have a role model in city hall. Khan agrees that his achievement could well inspire Britain's 2 million-plus individuals of south Asian origin, who often feel underrepresented in the upper echelons of British society.

"Here I am from a humble background, uprooted from one culture to another culture and still able to progress," he says.

Khan's family was part of the initial wave of Asian migrants seeking to improve their prospects among the textile mills of Lancashire. Higher education was out of reach. Instead, he did what many Pakistani immigrants did: quit school as soon as possible to seek work in one of the cotton mills. Khan toiled for more than three years as a laborer and then a weaver at the mill in the town of Brierfield. But unlike some of his colleagues, he suspected there was something better out there.

He enrolled in college to learn English and math properly. He moved to Manchester to do further exams, at the same time taking a range of jobs, from bus driver to youth worker. He spent 2-1/2 years as a police constable, developing a keen interest in the law. Khan took a law degree at Manchester University and soon made partner in a Manchester law firm.

Khan is not Britain's first Asian mayor. But his elevation comes at a critical time in a critical place. Kahn has promised to promote understanding rather than division. The timing is notable, moreover, given the debate over immigration and integration that has intensified here in the post-9/11 world.