To leave the country from which you were born, to completely uproot your life and leave what you are familiar with is no easy feat. With this story I hope to dive into the motivations, expectations, and realities that come with immigrating from Afghanistan to America. Through interviews and research I will paint a picture of the journey and perspective of an Afghan-American in New York City. This includes preconceived notions of the country, first impressions, discrepancies in international perceptions, as well as each interviewees “two cents” on the state of America now.
I began my research interviewing a well educated man named Shah Haya who, at the age of 25, moved from Kabul, Afghanistan to New York City. It was 1971 When Haya came to America, and initially, he had not planned on staying. He remembers the Afghanistan he left by saying “It was very peaceful, and security was very good. Everything was in progress.” However, during his time in America, Haya began to hear stories of turmoil back home, of political turbulence and violence. “They killed the president.” he told me, referring to communist parties of the time. “They killed the whole family. Everybody. His brother, his family, all dead.” It was this horrid scene that pushed Haya to stay in America. “I was here, I was watching, and I said I don’t want to go back, it was disgusting.” This was 1978. I will make a point to ask if this specific moment in history prompted immigration to America for other Afghan-Americans here in NYC.
When I began to question Shah Haya on why he chose America, he told me that his decision had come down to two countries; Russia and America. “I had no experience of America.” Haya told me, but what he knew of Russia prompted his decision. “One of my friends was in Russia for studies,” Haya explained, “he said when you go over there it is not a free country. They teach you to become a member of the (communist) party.” That was all it took for Haya to decide on America. It is clear his life growing up in Afghanistan has prompted him to recognize and demand equality, respect, and peace.
It was what he discovered next that shaped his view of America. Haya told me, “When I came to this country, I didn’t feel like I am a foreigner. When I come to New York, I was thinking that I fit with Americans.” I found this to be an amazing quote and plan of finding out if others had a similar first impression.
Haya justifies his favoring of America with the assertion that “the political system of the US is the best in the World.” The stability and steadfast nature of the American government are major components in how Haya has come to see the country as a whole, and why he has come to like it. As far as Haya is concerned, the country will not have a problem unless it falls to dictatorship, “the system is a good one, it is what keeps the country stable.”
Of course, there are discrepancies in America today compared to what Shah Haya had imagined when he first decided to live here.”Number one,” Haya begins, “education should be free for everybody. Number two is health care has to be, if not free, very very cheap.” These are the issues that he has with the country today. He began to tell me that he is disappointed to see the pressure put on Americans to rack up debt (mostly college debt) only to spend their lives working “not for themselves, but for a big company.” Haya feels that this country, that was full of opportunities for citizens and immigrants just 30 years ago, should have figured this out by now.
However, it doesn’t taint his view much. “It is going to change.” he tell me, “It is just a little too early for these changes. People will get smarter, intelligent, the new generation wants to change this.” I was especially intrigued by Hayas perception of and hopes for America because they are somewhat contrasting (and refreshing!) to the dismal view and predictions many Americans are currently holding.
Mr. Haya served as an excellent beginning to my research for this story and has only encouraged me to go further into my research development. Tomorrow I will be having a conversation with Naheed Samadi Bahram, the NY community program director of Women for Afghan Women.