‘Becoming American’ Story # 10

Lana Shami

Lana Shami immigrated to the United States of America from Damascus, Syria, not once but twice in her life. Her family first moved to Maryland (Md.) USA in 1973 when Lana was 5 years old. She entered Kindergarten and learned to speak English at breakneck speed. “I was keen on losing my accent, so I won’t be identified as anything different. That’s very important as a child,” said Lana while talking about her earlier time in Md. Though Muslim by religion, the family was not devout and did not have a religious structure around them. “When we first came here, we were very dead set on assimilating,” shared Lana. 

However, after spending five years in America, Lana’s father decided to move their family back to Syria, to be with her grandmother. “It was tearing her heart [her grandmother’s] to have us here, so we finally decided to go back,” said Lana. Shortly after, her grandmother passed away, and the family was back in Rockville, Md. after spending a few years in Syria. By this time, Lana was in 8th grade. During the following years, she completed high school and graduated from the University of Maryland and Towson State University. She married and moved to California, spent a few years in Texas, Florida and then in Pittsburgh, Pa. She also divorced, remarried, and had four children. 

In Aug. 2018, Lana moved back to Md. to be close to her septuagenarian mother and the rest of her family. “We have to recreate our little families because we are so used to having extended families. It’s very precious for us to try to preserve what we can, when we can, however we can,” said Lana, while commenting on her eventual move to her home state. 

As Lana moved from one place to another, she also embarked on a spiritual journey. A Buddhist roommate in college inspired Lana to undertake the discovery of her own Muslim faith, a religion that she was born into but hadn’t practiced until then. In 1996, when Lana was newly divorced from her first husband, she established friendships with other Muslim women, who helped her on this path of self-discovery.

Initially, it was hard for Lana to start covering her head like many practicing Muslim women. The Sept. 11 attacks changed that. “The time when I decided to go on and put on a hijab was in 2001, after 9/11. I felt like everybody had abandoned Islam and I wanted to show the people around me that we are not the terrorists that they make us out to be,” said Lana. She also realized that her mannerism had to change, and she had to make an effort to be extra pleasant to people around her, when she had her scarf on. Speaking of her practice of taking headscarf and how it is received, Lana said: “I think I became really self-conscious about it [the headscarf].  Sometimes you can clearly tell that people are ruder when you have a hijab on, as if we are less entitled to exist than they are. But then, I have noticed in general that if you are wearing a hijab and you are smiling and friendly to everyone, everyone is friendly and smiley and nice to you. But we can’t always put on that front. I have to make that extra effort when I have the hijab on.” 

Check out the video for Lana’s speech on the importance of “standing united.” The speech was made in Mount Lebanon, Pa. in 2018.  

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat

Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council

Partners include: 

CityLit ProjectInstitute for Islamic, Christian, Jewish StudiesWelcoming America


‘Becoming American’ Story # 9

Chef Emilienne

Nebie Zongo Sanmde Pawende Emilienne, known to people across Baltimore as Chef Emilienne, emigrated from Burkina Faso to the United States of America in 2017. U.S. Department of State’s Diversity Visa Program, commonly known as the visa lottery, paved way for her family’s residence in the United States. 

Despite the official recognition of Diversity Visa Program, Emilienne’s family had to encounter harsh scrutiny and unfavorable attitude of the US immigration officers of the Trump era. It costed them several trips to the US Embassy in Burkina Faso and a few thousand dollars, that they had to borrow from friends and family. 

Still, Emilienne and her family persisted in the face of red tape and processing delays at the US embassy in their country. Previously, her husband had lost his job at a local hotel as the business was struck down during riots in Burkina Faso. Her own income from administrative work at a local newspaper agency was meager. The couple started a café but failed to make any profit as most customers bought food items from them on credit and seldom paid back. Their friends and family wanted to support them but did not have the financial means to do so. “My husband said we cannot give up [the prospect of the move to USA] because this is such a big hope for us,” said Emilienne. 

Chef Emilienne in conversation with interpreter, Selina Doroshenko and Producer Saima Sitwat

In October 2017, Emilienne arrived in Baltimore, with her husband and their two older children who were 6 and 2 years old at that time. The couple’s third daughter, Mia, was born in Baltimore in 2019. They found a home in the city through an acquaintance. A nearby church helped provide camaraderie as well as English lessons for the French speaking family. Emilienne is proud of her partnership with Mera Kitchen Collective which allows her to bring West African flavors to Maryland. Most of the vegetables that she uses in her dishes are sourced from her backyard. 

Emilienne misses her family in Burkina Faso but is grateful for the educational and professional opportunities that the United States has afforded her family. “It was like the horizon was somber” she says, while talking of her home country. “Education is hard, there is no work to be found.” She, therefore, urges the American government and people to be more receptive of immigrants, especially those fleeing hardship and persecution. 

Check out the video for a glimpse into Emilienne’s story, her journey of finding friends and work in Baltimore. Interpretation is provided by Selina Doroshenko. 

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat

Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council

Partners include: 

CityLit ProjectInstitute for Islamic, Christian, Jewish StudiesWelcoming America


‘Becoming American’ Story # 8

Stavroula Sofou

Stavroula Sofou came to the United States of America in 1995 to study Chemical Engineering at Columbia University in New York City. It was not easy for her to leave her close-knit family in Greece, but the promise of an American education, that allowed one to pursue interdisciplinary studies was alluring. “I graduated in chemical engineering, but I was into a more non-traditional, bio-related path. In Europe, that could not easily happen, whereas US was and still is a place where you can more easily switch directions, especially at the graduate level.” 

When people interact with immigrants they realize that “they are people like them.”

Stavroula’s first few days in the city as a graduate student from another country were rough. “It was loneliness. I was really lonely. I realized I was so far from my family. I hope it’s worth it!” said Stavroula while reminiscing about her earlier time in the United States. She added that it is only when one arrives in a new country as an immigrant that you realize that “you are really far from your comfort zone.” However, as the semester commenced and students trickled in, she felt more at ease. Columbia’s diverse student body and New York’s cosmopolitanism became Stavroula’s new comfort zone. Over the years, Stavroula graduated and started working. She met her husband, a Greek man who was a Math Professor at Princeton University. They had a daughter together and made home in New Jersey. 

“Hopkins brought us to Maryland,” said Stavroula who moved to Baltimore in 2017 and is currently faculty at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. She lives in Roland Park and loves the convenience of living close to her place of work. 

Though Stavroula and her family have opportunity to visit each other across countries and continents, the travel restrictions during pandemic created tough choices for travelers. “Under normal circumstances” she was able to meet with her family every year. But, earlier in 2021, Stravoula’s mother had to cancel her trip to the United States from Greece, in the midst COVID-related fears and restrictions. “A few years back my dad passed away and now my mom is alone. Sometimes I think that my life is now here. It’s not there. But my heart is there many hours of the day. There is nothing I can do about it. My child is American, and I cannot go away. Even when I retire, I would like to live close to my daughter,” said Stavroula, while commenting on the existential dilemma that many immigrants go through in their lives.  

Stavroula believes that our salvation as a community and country lies in developing friendships and meeting each other across religions and cultures. When people meet folks outside of their bubble, they realize that “they are people like them.” 

Click on the attached audio to hear Stavroula’s thoughts on immigration and immigrants.  

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat

Author, American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council.

Partners include


‘Becoming American’ Story # 7


Dr. Aziza Shad MD serves as the Ellen W.P. Wasserman Chair in Pediatrics and Chief, Division of Pediatrics Hematology/Oncology at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. However, her medical journey started many moons ago during a turbulent year in South Asia. In 1971, then seventeen-year-old Aziza was the only woman selected in her native country, Pakistan to attend medical school through an exchange program in the Eastern wing of the country, called East Pakistan. It was the same year that the ongoing ethnic conflict in the region turned into a war and led to the separation of East Pakistan, which is today, Bangladesh. Aziza had to flee Bangladesh, fearing for her life. But there were people and friends who helped her along the way to arrive safely in Pakistan. The generosity of friends, at a time of vulnerability for her, taught her lifelong lesson in empathy.   

Aziza attended Dow University of Health Sciences in Pakistan. After completing two years at the college, she started wondering; “why are so many kids dying? They would all come with diarrhea and dehydration. In the midst of all that, we also had kids with cancer.” The plight of children led her to consider a career in Pediatrics. 

Once Aziza started practicing medicine in Pakistan, she had the opportunity to study cancer patients and research in greater detail. She realized that there was a 50-60 % survival rate of children with curable leukemias. “In Pakistan it was 0% at that time,” said Aziza. 

Inspired to change the lives of children with leukemia in Pakistan, Aziza went to England to further her training in pediatrics and cancer related ailments. Little did she know that a chance encounter in England would lead her to “Becoming American.” It was during her time in England when Aziza met her husband Tahir Shad who was a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. 

In 1985, Aziza moved to America with her husband. After a brief stay in Washington, the Shads made home in Pittsburgh, Pa. “The neighborhood we lived in was an old Italian neighborhood. We were the youngest people on the block. They were very suspicious of foreigners,” said Aziza while talking about her residence in Highland Park. Eventually, the neighbors came around and even took a liking to the Pakistani couple, whom they thought of as “Middle-Eastern.” The couple’s Muslim dietary restrictions for “halal” food were not easy to understand for their Italian neighbors who shared “meatballs” with them all the time. It was in the Highland Park community where Aziza found some of her first “American” friends, many of whom were immigrants themselves. One friend taught her to dress in appropriate Western clothing while another imparted instruction on the etiquette of eating pasta. She also met the first Jewish person in her life. “It started from eating bagels and lox together to really understanding what Judaism was all about.” 

 The next few years were some of the busiest of Aziza’s life. She moved to Hershey, Pa. to pursue residency training in Pediatrics at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She also became a mother during this time and her first child was born with a chromosomal anomaly. “I also dealt with my own grief during those three years, “said Aziza. However, she persisted against all odds and held on to her dream of treating cancer patients. 

A fellowship opportunity in Hematology/Oncology with National Institute of Health (NIH) in 1989 brought Aziza and her family to the Washington Metropolitan Area. Here she was introduced to International Oncology and had the opportunity to travel to and work in many developing countries, including Pakistan, along with the NIH Team. 

Today, Aziza resides in Potomac, Md. “Did I miss what I had left behind? Of course!” She found a way to stick to her cultural roots and “became known as the person who came in Pakistani clothes [at formal events] with a ring in her nose.” Over the years, she has served in leadership roles and top positions across several hospitals in the region. She credits the American medical system with teaching her “the value of compassion and empathy.” She keeps the goodwill going by teaching the same to her students.” Still today, I teach communicating bad news. I teach how to talk to families,” said Aziza. 

Watch the attached video for Aziza’s reflections on building bridges across communities in America. 

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat 

Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC)

Partners include:


Becoming American: Story # 6

Selina Doroshenko

In 2014, then twenty-four-year-old Selina Doroshenko left her hometown of Montreal, Canada to pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Md. “I really choose Baltimore because my dream since I was a young child was to study art and to study in the US. Even though there are so many things happening in Canada artistically, I always felt I was missing out on something, especially the New York art scene,” said Selina. She found New York to be too expensive and opted for Baltimore that is not too far from New York. MICA’s excellent reputation sealed the deal for Selina. 

Selina’s early days of navigating the City of Baltimore were a mixture of adventure and a sense of loss. She opted for “on campus” housing, which she later realized was situated in East Liberty, at 30-minute walking distance from the actual campus in Station North Arts District. Selina did not mind the walk and sometimes enjoyed biking as well. However, she had “interesting” experiences while commuting, which once included a group of teenage boys on bikes who tried to intimidate her. But she was most surprised at the lack of diversity in Baltimore. “It was very desolate when I was walking,” said Selina. As she would head out from her predominantly Black neighborhood, she would pass through “White pockets” and “Black pockets” of community. “I am missing Middle Eastern people, African people, Indian and Greek people in my neighborhood,” remarked Selina. “I didn’t see any small businesses along my route as compared to back home [in Montreal].” During those early days in Maryland, Selina felt “isolated.” She missed home. 

Over the years, Selina realized that Baltimore does not lack diversity. The problem lies in “geographical segregation.” She now knows that if she goes to the Patterson Park neighborhood, “there is a huge Mexican community over there. There is also Ukrainian community over there,” which has helped Selina connect with Ukrainian roots of her paternal family.

After completing her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from MICA, Selina started teaching at Baltimore area schools. She has taught art intensives at public, parochial and independent schools in the area. She is also looking forward to college teaching opportunities. 

Though Selina could not find permanent employment at Baltimore-area schools, one of them could sponsor a work visa for her, because of her exceptional artistic talent. She loves working with children but feels that non-permanent employment opportunities and part-time work has taken her away from her goal of becoming a “professional artist.” “My goal and my dream were to come [to the US], complete my master’s degree in the States. Once you have a Master in Arts, you can get gallery shows, museum shows and that is how you become a professional artist, on paper. That was my big, big dream. But, when I finished school, I had to find a job because you have to be working in your field,” said Selina. She added that she was also was also required to work for an employer to maintain her visa status. 

Today, Selina lives in Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore with her husband, whom she met as a student at MICA. The couple loves to explore the great Maryland outdoors and goes on extensive hikes and bike rides. 

Selina feels that though the United States and Canada border each other, the two are culturally and socially very different. While commenting on differences, Selina mentioned that she always finds it amusing that “when you bump into someone [in the US] instead of saying sorry or excuse me, people say, you are good, or you are fine. But I wonder, how do you know I am good?” 

Selina recently became a permanent resident of the United States of America. Check out the linked video for Selina’s message for ideas on supporting new immigrants to the United States. 

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat 

Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC)

Partners include: 


‘Becoming American’ Story # 5 Jay Polaki

Jay Polaki and I spoke on July 21, 2021, which was exactly twenty-three years from the time Jay had found the guiding principle of her life. It was a quote by William Shakespeare, which read: “The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.” 

The Bard’s words took Jay from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Ill. and eventually brought her to Maryland. 

Jay arrived in America in August 2001. Her initial days were not easy, but they put her on fast track to ‘Becoming American’. “I discovered a lot about myself; how resilient I am, as well as, how vulnerable I am,” said Jay while alluding to her first few months in the United States. She supplemented her graduate assistant stipend by working at the campus dining service, where she learned to cook foods, such as Philly Cheesestake Burgers, that she had never tasted in her life. She learned to navigate the American lifestyle, from doing her own laundry to paying for college.  She had arrived in Illinois in August, but Summers in the Midwest were too cold for a girl born and raised in an Indian coastal town. She bought a warm winter coat for herself and wore it all through her first semester in fall. “People were surprised” to see her in the big winter coat in September. 

After completing her master’s in Industrial Organizational Psychology (IOP) Jay wanted to stay and work in the United States. “After 9/11, it was very hard to find employment for immigrants, especially those who needed visa sponsorships,” noted Jay.  In 2004, she received an offer of employment from Maryland Department of Transportation. She relocated to Maryland and has since then, called it home. Her supervisor at the transportation department later shared with her details of opposition that Jay’s application faced, as she was a “foreign” candidate. 

Today, Jay is an entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of HR Geckos. Her company works at the intersection of technology and human resources, which she believes has gained prominence in today’s “hybrid workplace.” Jay also runs a nonprofit organization, “Global Indian Professional Network” which provides a networking space for the international South Asian diaspora. Though the organization is open to people of all ethnicities and genders, Jay is personally invested in the growth and development of immigrant women from India. She believes that most immigrants face hardship in establishing careers in the United States, but it is even harder for women. “Most women come as spouses and for them the opportunities are even lesser.” Added to it are intensive processes related to educational and professional credentialing in the United States, familial obligations of raising children, and keeping a house without a “support network.”

During our conversation, Jay talked about the importance of cultural competency, and looking beyond ethnic stereotypes and myths. Check out her message for all Americans at this link: https://youtu.be/sCmPzOXRNOE

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat @sitwatsaima

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ is provided by Maryland State Arts Council

Partners Include:


‘Becoming American’ Story #4

Zeyneb Sayilgan

Zeyneb Sayilgan came to the United States of America in 2006 to further her studies in Islam and interreligious dialogue. Born and raised in Germany, to Kurdish parents from Turkey, Zeyneb saw herself as a bridge-builder; someone who can help build community connections and facilitate dialogue because of her “hybrid identity.”

As a Muslim by faith and daughter of Muslim parents who immigrated to Germany, Zeyneb is well-aware of the internal and external biases that haunt Muslim communities in the West. While growing up in Germany, she was constantly made aware of her “otherness” through curious glances and questions. While acknowledging “the challenges of living as a Muslim” in America, Zeyneb believes that “the secularism in the United States acknowledges your need to live out [according to] your religion.”  The fact that religious freedom is a constitutional provision, makes it one of the important aspects of the American democracy. 

Zeyneb choose to study Islam at the Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. “America always has this appeal to students,” said Zeyneb while speaking of her choice. United States provides one an opportunity to be “creative in their thinking.” 

Today, Zeyneb serves as the Muslim Scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies (ICJS) in Baltimore, Md. She has found home in Howard County, Md. but she continues to engage with the traditional notions of home through her work. According to her, home cannot be defined by territorial boundaries alone. “Home is where you have like-minded connection with people, which cultivates a sense of belonging,” said Zeyneb. She believes that human beings are far too “expansive” to “fit into one country or territory.” 

Zeyneb came to the United States of America with an “openness to engage and dialogue” but mentions that some American peculiarities can be hard for those born outside of the United States to embrace. One of them are bumper stickers. She finds it “interesting” that Americans do not hesitate to express everything from their political beliefs to emotional views and love for their pets on the back of their cars. “I think it speaks to the freedom [in the United States]. In some countries if you put these statements out there, they will not be well-received.” Another American peculiarity that Zeyneb finds hard to adapt to is ice-cold water. “There is always ice in the water. I always have to tell people, that I would like water, without ice, please.” 

Check out attached video message from Zeyneb on the evolving notions of home, and her opinion on the added value that new immigrants bring to America: https://youtu.be/0qv5FvDbrAs

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat  Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding forBecoming American has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC)

Partners include: 

‘Becoming American’ Story # 3: Anne Calinger

Anne Calinger was only 7 months old when she arrived from South Korea at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, with her adopted parents. Yet, as she journeyed through life in America, she was constantly reminded that she was an ‘immigrant’. Her gender role was also defined along the way, as she was gently geared towards liberal arts by well- intentioned teachers, when she faced slight challenges in science and math.

Anne’s adopted parents moved to the Washington Metropolitan Area (DMV) around 1987, within a year of bringing her home. The DMV area is considered one of the most diverse parts of the United States but still, Anne started becoming conscious of her differences from other kids at a young age. “It was around second grade that I came home from school and asked my mom what color I was,” said Anne. She also had to address myths, such as, the presumption that all Asians were “Chinese.” Many people were also “taken aback by how good” her English was, to which she would respond; “That’s the only language I speak.”

The identity conundrum continued for Anne and her classmates throughout school years. “In middle school, a lot of kids started giving me a hard time for what they called trying to act white. I think people were confused by how they act, my mannerism, how I carry myself and it seemed to offend some people,” said Anne. High school was more tough. The student body at her high school was diverse but “people segregated themselves to people who looked like them. I was kind of this weird outlier of where do I fit in, and I spent some time trying to figure that out,” said Anne, while alluding to the fact that she was considered neither Asian nor white enough to fit in with either of the student groups. 

Finally, during the college years, Anne had a sense of “belonging.” “I realized that maybe there is not a homogenous group I fit in, but I fit in the larger part of society,” Anne said, while commenting on fully embracing her identity. Other positive forces in her life that brought on this realization were her adopted parents and extended family. They all welcomed her in their homes and communities with open arms. 

Anne said that though she was no novice to verbal attacks and biases, 2020 was different. President Trump dubbed COVID-19 pandemic as “China Virus” which elevated the level of hate-crimes against the East-Asian community.  It was after a long time in Anne’s life that she felt “otherness.” “This is the first time in life when I felt unsafe,” said Anne, while commenting that she was scared to go out in public and was happy that, because of the pandemic, she could cover her face with a mask and hide her ethnicity behind it. 

Anne believes that our success as Americans is in remembering that we all come from different places and have different experiences, but we are all playing our part in building a collective American story. Check out Anne’s video in the link for her message to all Americans: https://youtu.be/zFHDk4Uyhn8

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat  Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC)

Partners include: 

‘Becoming American’ Story # 2 : Ale Balcazar

“I didn’t know how privileged I was in my country, until I moved here”, said Ale Balcazar while reminiscing about her initial days in the United States of America. “You are labeled as Latina, you have an accent so you might not be smart enough,” she added while talking about her initial struggles in America which ranged from filling gas in car to trying to culturally fit in. 

Ale landed in the US on Sept. 12, 2012. Born in Colombia, she was raised by a single mother who told her that she gave her “wings to fly.” At the age of twenty-four, Ale came to the United States to study English at the Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. As a student of world languages, Ale understood and spoke some English, but it was far from the American English that she heard around herself. She stayed with another immigrant family in Baltimore which further complicated the situation; “I had my Colombian English, their British English that I had with the family that I was living with, and then the Baltimore accent on streets. And, I had no idea what was going on with that last part,” said Ale. 

Linguistics was not the only factor that Ale had to battle. There were cultural differences as well. Her days of fiesta like Christmas celebration on the streets of Colombia were replaced with somber “cold and quiet” Christmas in the United States. Objectification of Latina women in the United States was another barrier Ale had to overcome. “Colombian woman is usually seen as a woman that is curvy, sexy and is very sexualized,” said Ale while adding that such a stereotype “takes away the intelligence, all the value of a woman’s brains.”  

How does one find belonging amidst such a cultural shift? “I had to create it. It didn’t come easily,” admits Ale. A resident of Towson, Baltimore County, Ale now hangs out with a diverse group of friends, who have helped her find her own place in the community. It has come with an acceptance that she does not need to “fit in.” She is respectful of the North American traditions but does not try to repress her identity anymore. “I welcome all those traditions, but I also bring my own things, my own identity. Now, I am not trying to hide it anymore,” said Ale as she commented on making home in the US. 

Today, Ale teaches Spanish and French in the World Languages program at a Baltimore-area independent school. She uses her platform as a teacher to take her students beyond the language classroom, to culture and communities of South America. 

Check out the video for Ale’s message to all Americans: https://youtu.be/VPuu9iB2t5g

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat  Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council


Partners include: 


#welcomingamerica #immigrantstories  #betterstories #americanstories 

‘Becoming American’ Story #1: Fariha Hashimi

In 1974, twenty- four year-old Fariha Hashimi came from Afghanistan to the United States of America, to visit her fiancée. Little did she know that events in her country would unfold in a way, that she would not be able to return until 2003.

Fariha was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1948. She trained as civil engineer and worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan until she received a scholarship to attend engineering school in Holland. She decided to visit the United States before returning to her home country. While she was in America, there was a military coup and regime change in Afghanistan. She delayed her return to Afghanistan while waiting for the political situation to get better. Eventually, her yearning to return home turned into a distant dream.

In 1974, there was no formal refugee program in the United States for people from Afghanistan. “I didn’t know too many Afghans at that time,” said Fariha, while talking about her lack of resources and access to information. There were also no programs to guide immigrants about professional opportunities or life in the United States. Language was another challenge. Though Fariha was no alien to English language, the accents and mannerism in America could be challenging. Despite initial hardship, Fariha found home in America, in the city of New York. She married her fiancée and had two children. She helped her husband, Said Hashmi, with the logistics of their deli and grocery store.

In 2003, Fariha’s daughter, Nadia, who was a medical student, wanted to work in Afghanistan. Fariha and Said accompanied their daughter as they felt that “for a girl it’s not easy” to be alone in Afghanistan. The death and destruction that Fariha saw during that trip filled her with sadness. “We couldn’t even find where my house was”, said Fariha, while talking of the extensive damage done to the infrastructure in Afghanistan, after years of war and bombing.

In 2018, Fariha moved to Gaithersburg, Md. to be close to her daughter, Nadia Hashmi, who is pediatrician and writer. She calls Maryland her “last landing place.” Today, Fariha and her family are part of efforts in welcoming Afghan refugees, as many are anticipated to come to the United States in the aftermath of the recent takeover of the country by Taliban.

Check out the video for Fariha’s story on finding home in the United States and ways to help Afghan refugees: youtu.be/1aiV07lAktA’Becoming

Writer and Producer: Saima Adil Sitwat

Author: American Muslim: An Immigrant’s Journey

Funding for ‘Becoming American’ has been provided by Maryland State Arts Council

Partners Include: