A First Date Immigrant Story
Vanessa Handy: Do you remember a specific time where you realized your perspective on being an immigrant here in the US had changed?
Speaker 1: Well, that's a good question. I've not thought about it.
Speaker 2: At first when I arrived, I thought I was treated like a tourist but I realized that being African American and being African is totally different. I think the difference is a strength and not something to be dismissed.
Speaker 3: I think my main perspective would just be like growing up and realizing the American dream is not real.
Vanessa: Is there something that you wish more people would understand about what it's like to be an immigrant here?
Speaker 1: Depending on where you live, you could have a completely different experience of living in United States.
Speaker 4: I guess I wish people understood that having a different perspective of the world is a good thing. It's so foreign to them that they don't even know, they don't even take the time to try to understand.
Kousha Navidar: Welcome to Notes From America, I'm Kousha Navidar filling in for Kai Wright. More than 40 million people in the United States are immigrants. I'm one of them, barely. I was born in Iran, right towards the end of the Iran-Iraq War. This is the late '80s. Now, war is to put it mildly disruptive. To put it bluntly, it completely upends your family's life for generations.
Most of my family moved to the United States when I was just one and a half. My dad had to stay behind. It wasn't until six years later that we really got to see each other. My mom, my sister, and I arrived in New York City, and I grew up in what I sincerely believe to be one of the best cities in the country. It's Albany, New York. Growing up, it's not like I tried to ignore my heritage. It's just that growing up American worked for me, but just by the virtue of my name, I was marked as different. I remember starting back in kindergarten, having to make sure my teachers said Kousha, not Kausher.
Now, the irony that Kousha is itself an American way of pronouncing Chris Shaw, was lost on me at the time. I guess in a way, I didn't know how much some aspects of my life were still about auditioning as an American, like dating. When I was 17, I had a pretty bad first date. When it was over, we never talked or saw each other again. I think about it from time to time, but it's never haunted me or anything. I didn't fixate on it until almost 20 years later when she re-entered my life and I realized there was something unresolved.
Our pasts are punctuated with critical moments. They come, they go, and most of us never get the chance to go back and revisit them. Very recently I did. It revealed something new to me about what it means to come of age as an immigrant in America.
All right, I'm getting ready for Christina to come to my house for the second time in 34 years.
Technically, this is my mother's house in Albany, but it's where I grew up. I'm pacing in the kitchen, the woman I'm about to see for the first time since 2005 is Christina. She lives in London now. I live in New York City but a mutual friend put us in touch when my name was mentioned, and Christina recognized it. Now she's flying back to the states and we agreed to meet right where the first state started. This house.
What's the first thing I'm going to say? "Hey, long time no see. Hey, Christina, how are you? Hey, there's a friendly face." I'm going to make sure I gave her the right address. This house is [unintelligible 00:03:58] Oh, man, I'm nervous. Oh, there she is. Oh, man. Okay, here we go. Hey.
Christina: Oh, my God.
Kousha: How are you doing?
Christina: I'm good. Hello.
Kousha: Hey. Thanks for coming.
Christina: This is so weird.
Oh, my god, you look the same.
Kousha: You too.
I do not look the same but it was very generous of Christina to say. I made us tea, we sat down, settled in, and tried to figure out where to start. Maybe where we should have started 17 years ago, trying to get to know each other.
Christina: I know nothing about you, really but I've had an image of you.
Kousha: Tell me a little bit about your family's background. Just tell me what your life was like.
Christina: I was 12 when I came to the US. We moved from northwestern part of Romania, which is Transylvania. My dad's a mathematician and the US was still buying in talented people from all over the world and particularly from Eastern Europe. He came here, and then we followed. Me and my sister were born there.
Kousha: This is wild because I didn't remember that Christina was also an immigrant. Here's what I do remember. It was 2005, I had a lot of friends, did well in school, I just got a car. I wondered if she had the same experience as me.
What was that like moving to Albany?
Christina: Rough. [laughs] Well, how do you even start? It's really hard to assimilate. I just remember that kids found it weird that you would eat cream cheese on toast, or not on a bagel. It's so ridiculous. It's like I had all these thoughts, and all these experiences, and all these reasons to be embarrassed and they make no sense.
Kousha: Totally. We all have. I had my own version of that, I grew up in this community. I didn't want to be anything less than perfect if that makes sense.
Christina: Oh, that makes a lot of sense.
Kousha: Then tell me your side of the story. Like just walk me through what you remember happening.
Christina: I feel like I should say a bit about like meeting your dad because your dad's actually the main part of this story in a way. Your dad worked with my dad at the university. Actually, it would have been, if not the first year of us immigrating, probably the second. Your dad was one of the first people that I think started to be friends with my family. My mom didn't have a driver's license yet. Your dad offered to take us shopping. Then he took us to Kmart. That's a very distinct memory. Then I remember-
Kousha: This is something else I had no idea about, my dad reaching out like that, taking Christina and her family to Kmart but it doesn't surprise me. My dad would go out of his way for other people. Which is a little complicated for me, because what I felt like at that time was I was the one helping him out when he moved here, trying to navigate a lot of things in a new country. That's why it was so surprising to me that day, 17 years ago, when he said, "Hey, Kousha, my coworker in the math department invited you and me to dinner at his house. Do you want to come with me?"
That was a big deal. My dad and I always felt a little distant. To hear that he had a friend, my dad wanted me to meet this friend and get dinner with him. That was a first. I said, "Yes, okay."
I remember going into your house and there was your dad, your mom, your sister, small baby boy, and you. That was the start for me of Christina.
Christina: I don't remember that but it makes sense. My parents had dinners, and people came over to the house, they would have had an awareness of you. I think I might have been like, "Hmm," but I don't remember that dinner. No.
Kousha: After the dinner ends, I remember one of Christina's parents saying, "Hey, Kousha, you should feel free to come over for dinner again."
Christina: What I can imagine is that my mom knew I had a crush on you so she worked her magic.
Kousha: My dad and I are driving back home. While he's looking at the road, he offhandedly says, "Kousha, I think you should go back over."
Do you remember me coming back for dinner another night?
Christina: Did you come back again?
Kousha: Yes, I did. A second night.
Christina: Oh, this is so awkward.
Kousha: No, it's fine. You don't remember?
Kousha: My mother instructed me to bring a box of cookies from Price Chopper.
Christina: Oh my God.
Kousha: That is the moment etched in my mind where I learned to never show up to a place empty-handed, always bring something. Your house was where I learned that.
Christina: Oh, that's super nice.
Kousha: Afterwards, we went down to the basement with her sister and we watched the movie Garden State. What are you listening to?
Christina: The Shanes. You got to hear these ones and it'll change your life I swear.
Kousha: Christina and I sat pretty close together.
Christina: I don't remember this, although my sister does, which is hilarious because she's like, "I remember that so clearly." I don't, not at all. Then it's vague from there on as well. I think we went to the school play.
Kousha: Yes. Then on the night of our actual date, we definitely went to a school play. My local high school was performing the Stephen Sondheim classic, Into the Woods.
Speaker 6: [unintelligible 00:09:45] it's time to go, I hate to leave, I have to go.
Kousha: I remember waiting for Christina that Saturday night in my living room, and a car pulls up to the driveway. Out walks Christina, her mom and her dad. I remember opening the door to our house and immediately my 17-year-old brain realized that, "Oh, this is a date." The hormones were flying, but I felt like my brain hadn't caught up to my body yet.
Christina: My parents insisted on driving me to this house which was mortifying for me being 15, 16, I think when we met. By that point, I sounded American, I looked American, and I don't know if the insecurity was an immigration-driven insecurity or a teenage-girl-driven insecurity. Actually, it was probably both.
Kousha: We watched the show, but afterwards there's this gap of time to fill. Here I am, I have a date, I have a car, and I ask myself, "What should we do next?" Here's the part of the date I can't forget. I ask Christina, "Do you want to go to the grocery store?" Price Chopper in Albany, New York at 10:30 PM on a Saturday.
Do you remember Price Chopper?
Kousha: Oh my gosh. We walked around for 10 minutes and then we left.
Christina: Questionable. [laughter] I remember the mall.
Kousha: We went to the mall?
Christina: Yes. I remember this very distinctly because I wore high heels-
Kousha: Oh wow.
Christina: -because I was trying to impress. Actually, that mall's pretty big, and walking in high heels at the mall was super uncomfortable. I do remember that.
Kousha: What did we do in the mall?
Christina: I said, "Should we get a piercing?"
Kousha: Oh my God.
Christina: Do you remember?
Kousha: [unintelligible 00:11:43]
Christina: Okay, and we went to Claire's. [laughs] Then the woman quoted us $100 to get my ear pierced and then I was so mortified because I didn't have $100. I felt like I was so disappointing. After being like, "Let's go get a cool piercing." Then I remember your car.
Kousha: Do you? Do you remember the car?
Christina: I remember the car.
Kousha: My car, it was a 1994 Toyota Celica GT Coop, pearl white, black leather interior, stick shift with an aftermarket alpine radio that had two colors, green and neon red. I was so proud, not just that I owned a car, but that I owned a Celica. Having your own car to me felt like a rite of passage. The sportier the better.
Christina: I think you would've been cool because you have this way of talking that's like your talent. You're very chatty and charming. Then it would've been like, "Wow, this guy's older and I'm going on a date with the guy with a car." Toyota Celica, two door, yes?
Kousha: Two door.
Christina: Two door. I don't remember the color.
Christina: Okay. It had the sun roof thingy. I think the reason this car is etched in my memory because it was probably the most awkward moment of the day, although there were many, which was us driving to a pretty dark woodland area, [laughter] and just sitting in the car. Of course because I had watched enough romcoms by that point to have it really etched in my memory that if you're in a car with a boy, you're going to kiss, or at least you should if he likes you and it never happened. It never happened.
Kousha: I remember not knowing what to do in that car because I didn't want to hurt Christina's feelings, but I just did not feel ready. We just sat there and I remember I was like, "So, you want to see how the moon roof works?"
Christina: I also don't think we were there for that little. We hung around this darkened area in the car for a while.
Kousha: After some more silence, all I thought to say was, "So, you want to go back home?" I drove her home, I dropped her off, and that is the last time we talked to each other.
Christina: This is where my memory gets a little sad. It comes to a crashing, slightly painful feeling. Uncool, unpretty, rejected, all these feelings that you carry with you that you feel when you're 15. Then the other part in my head had to do with immigration for sure. I felt like I was too foreign for you.
Christina: I felt like I was way too fresh off the boat for you to comfortably engage with. That's genuinely my feeling.
Kousha: Was it something I did or something that-
Christina: It's funny because earlier, you said that your experience of immigration is not that you felt like you needed to fit in because you already did, but it was this feeling that you always wanted to be perfect and I was completely imperfect. That's literally how I walked away with that or rather how I processed it and have been carrying it as a memory.
Kousha: Oh, I'm so sorry because that's so far from the truth.
Kousha: That sounds like it must have been really tough. I can say I remember meeting you and thinking, "Oh, this is somebody that I would aspire to be with because she makes me feel like I'm American because she seems very American.
Christina: Whoa. That's so nuts.
Kousha: It was never a question for me about you. I remember being like, "What am I doing? I feel like I am not ready for this. Let's go to safe places. Let's go to my car, Price Chopper." Then when I dropped you off, I remember thinking, "I have no idea what I'm doing." So much of my mind back then was about doing well in school and doing well in clubs. Giving nobody a reason to think anything besides, oh I was good. I had no space for hanging out with girls or having-
Christina: -emotional connection? [laughs]
Kousha: Exactly. No, that's really well said. Having a date was like going from 0 to 60 really fast.
Christina: Oh yes. I think if I was still a 15-year-old girl, I would've loved to hear you say, "Oh, I thought you were cute, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." I think I'm not a 15-year-old girl anymore, so I think I've long been over that cycle of insecurity with myself. The part that remains is this clash of identities or clash of identity struggles, but I don't know what I make of it yet. It will take me a while to-
Christina: -process. Because I carried this rage with me for a while. I don't think I don't know you, I don't think I liked you. I think it's nice to talk about those feelings because I don't want to carry them.
Kousha: I really appreciate you telling me and it hurts my heart to hear because it is unintended consequences from it sounds like my own challenges that I was going through, but it's not always about intent, it's about outcome. I'm so sorry to 16-year-old Christina and I'm slightly pissed off at 17-year-old Kousha right now.
17 years ago, I took a girl to go see Into the Woods. It was a peculiar, painful moment. Now, talking it through with Christina, I feel bewildered, vulnerable, and realizing just how much he was a part of this whole story. I just want to pick up the phone and talk to my dad.
Sabaa: Yes, Kousha, I'd like to talk to you. I love you and I am proud of you. [unintelligible 00:18:57]
Kousha: Here's the thing. My dad passed away very unexpectedly just two months before Christina and I reconnected. This date was one of the closest moments my dad and I had while I was growing up that I felt like we shared it. Just us. I wanted to ask him what did he remember about this story? How did he see me back then? Now Christina is the only person I can really hash this out with, but she knew him and she said something that sounded a lot like my dad. What takeaways are most important to you?
Christina: I think there's just a kindness that I would apply to myself now and probably just like a recognition that immigration was rough, but-- This is one of those moments that was rough. For some reason I haven't quite worked out the link, but it's linked to being an immigrant for some reason. Whether it's because it was so early or because we both had the background or because by default, our parents being involved is an immigrant experience. I'm not quite sure. I think there's just something around recognizing it's not as negative. It's just so much more universal or it's just so much more common. It's okay. It's okay baby Christina. It's okay. Little hug.
Kousha: Thank you for being such a fantastic person to go on a first date with. Even if I royally screwed that one up.
Christina: We botched it.
Kousha: We botched it. Well, I'll take a-
Kousha: I'll always be an immigrant and as I move into different phases of my life, I'm not just becoming more proud of that, I'm also realizing it's getting more textured. That there's more to unpack about how I move through the world. Does that strike a chord for anyone else listening? If you were born in a different country, how has the meaning behind that evolved for you? Are you more proud of it? Is it more complicated or has it stayed the same? Call us.
Joining us now is Sabaa Tahir, a young adult novelist. Her book All My Rage, touches this topic in a way that I feel is super special. It also draws on her own experience moving to the US and growing up in the Mojave Desert at her family's 18-room Motel. Sabaa, thanks for being here.
Sabaa: Thanks for having me.
Sabaa: That was so fascinating to listen to.
Kousha: Oh, I appreciate you listening to it. We're going to get into it a little bit. From your side when you were one, you moved to the US from England, and your family has roots in Pakistan. You've called the town you grew up in the US to be pretty isolated. What made you feel that way? As you listened to that first state story, did any of the themes resonate with your own experience?
Sabaa: The town was isolated because it was actually around 160 miles from any really large city. It was out in the middle of the desert. There wasn't much close by. I had never been to a real mall until I was 13. That was a mall in a place called Palmdale, California, which I later learned everyone in Los Angeles thought it was a wasteland, but I thought it was the height of sophistication. That just shows you exactly how remote this town that I grew up in was.
When I was listening to you talk, I was actually-- you and Christina talking, I was thinking about how as immigrants we grow up and we're made so aware of our wrongness, our inability to fit in, the otherness of us that actually when things do go wrong, that's the first thing we go to.
When I was listening to you guys talk, to me I was like, this just sounds like any 17-year-old and 15-year-old going on a date for the first time. It could be anybody and their parents could have come over on the Mayflower or it could be two kids going on a date in England or in any country in the world like that awkwardness. I think that's part of the age and not so much because we're immigrants, but again, it's like that's the thing that we turn to like, oh man, if I just fit in better, this wouldn't have happened.
Kousha: Right. It's that first layer that you always need to pass, I guess is what I hear you say, right?
Sabaa: Yes, that's right.
Kousha: It makes me think of your book actually because that's one of the things that comes up in it All My Rage. One of my favorite lines of the book happens about three-quarters of the way through. The main character finds herself in an impossible situation. Everyone is judging her without really seeing her. She says, this line, "It's in this moment, I wish I were a poet. Not to speak beauty, but to speak pain." Where did that line come from for you? Was it something purely from the character or was it any way related to your own experience?
Sabaa: Oh, definitely related to my own experience. Absolutely. I think part of the reason why I began to write was I didn't feel like there was an outlet for the emotions that I was feeling the most prominent of which was anger and rage and frustration. I'm Muslim and for a long time now, Muslims aren't really allowed to get angry because it's considered scary when we do. I grew up with that in my head that I'm not supposed to and I'm also a woman. I think that for those who identify as women being angry, being frustrated, there's so much negativity that comes with that from people's judgment on us.
That too was a reason that I felt like I couldn't really explain my anger and I so often wish I had better words to explain it. That's what I'm channeling for Noor, that's the character who feels that way in that moment is that she wishes that she could just explain how much pain she's in.
Kousha: Do you feel like-- I'm sorry, go ahead.
Sabaa: No, that's it.
Kousha: Well, do you feel like that's maybe what brought you to writing in the first place is that experience of trying to gain the vocabulary?
Sabaa: Yes, I think so. Yes. Also writing was a safe place. I mean, writing was one of the only safe places I could completely create and control my own world, especially when I was writing fantasy books, which was the first books that I published and the first things I started to write were fantasy stories because it's like I'm making up a world in which I'm not an immigrant. The brown characters are not the outcast. They're not the ones who are different. They just are. They just exist the way anyone exists in the world.
Kousha: Existing in the world is the core theme of this episode in a way. Tell me, how has the significance of being an immigrant changed for you over the course of your own life, when you compare yourself to just moving here to right now, what's that progression been like for you?
Sabaa: I think that it's something that I started off not understanding or knowing. Then I became very, very keenly aware of it to the point where it felt like a millstone. It felt like this weight that I carried to now really being very proud of it. There was actually a moment where it was crystallized for me how proud I should be to be an immigrant and that was when COVID started. I remember thinking all these people were talking about how difficult it was to be away from their families, to not see people, to not connect. I was thinking about my parents, my siblings and I and how we didn't see our family for years at a time.
We didn't talk to them on the phone because this is back in the '80s when if you wanted to talk to someone on an international call, there was no FaceTime and you had to get a card and you had to scream into the phone for them to hear you 10,000 miles away. I realized there's so much strength in our people because I remember when this happened my parents were like, "Oh, well at least we'll get to see you on FaceTime. At least we'll get to talk to you on the phone." That's not something they ever had. That's when I started realizing that being an immigrant has made me very strong and has made my people, my family, my friends, people from Pakistan specifically has made us very strong.
Kousha: Do you feel like that strength was brought through the challenges or do you think it was a better understanding of all that it entailed? Or tell me more about the strength.
Sabaa: I think that in part it's because every time you survive something you-- or I shouldn't apply this to everyone, but every time I survived something, I gained a little bit of knowledge and I was like, okay, now I know how to go through that. Then you have so many experiences that might be negative that if you get to a point where you feel pretty confident about how to get through some of those negative interactions that might happen, how to sometimes diffuse them or how to walk away or how to stick up for yourself and fight for yourself. Every experience makes you a little wiser. That is I think why I have felt stronger and why I have been keenly aware of that strength.
Kousha: Maybe in just 30 seconds that we've got here, tell me more about how it's helped you interact with the world a little bit. I hear that. Now how do you feel that it's done that compared to before?
Sabaa: I think I'm a much more empathetic person. I think I have much greater empathy for people, whether they're immigrants or not, whether they're struggling through the things I've struggled through or not. I think it's taught me a lot of kindness.
Kousha: Oh, let's pause there. I'm talking to Sabaa Tahir, author of All My Rage about the significance of coming from a different country and growing up in the US. Listeners we're taking your calls. Does being an immigrant mean something different to you today than it did when you first moved here? More to come. Stay with us.
Vanessa: Hey everyone, this is Vanessa, the show's intern. I want to remind you that we are collecting listener responses to our episode this week. Here's something I'd love to hear from you. When it comes to this experience of moving through different phases of life as an immigrant in America, what other questions or personal experiences come to mind for you? What do you think other people misunderstand about these experiences and what topics related to growing older as an immigrant in America?
Would you like us to do a segment about next? We'd love to hear from you. You can email us. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send us a voice message. Just go to our website, that's notesfromamerica.org and click on the green button a little way down the page that says, Start Recording. Thanks. Hope to hear from you soon.
Kousha: It's Notes from America. I'm Kousha Navidar and I'm joined by Sabaa Tahir, author of All My Rage. Everyone, we're taking your calls. If you were born in a different country, how has the significance of that fact changed over the course of your life here in the us? Before we get to our first call, Sabaa, I have a question for you. Do you ever talk to teens who were born outside the US and and live here about your books? What resonates with them about your writing?
Sabaa Tahir: I think what resonates with my readers the most is the universality of some of the issues that I discuss and it's not something I necessarily do on purpose. I don't go into writing a book thinking, how do I make this as universal as possible because that makes for a very boring book. Instead, I try to bring out the things about the characters that I find fascinating.
I really focus on character when I write.
What my readers end up connecting to is like, oh, this character loves music just like I do or this character is really into writing just like I am or this character's very loyal to their family just like I am and they start to connect to the characters in this way that makes them feel seen. I remember that as a kid reading my favorite books connecting to characters because they had similar traits to me or because their experiences mirrored something in my own life. That's usually what they come to me with.
Kousha: Go you. Does it strike you that there's any difference in how they talk about their coming of age experience here in a way that maybe that's different than how you might've or I might've back in the day, I guess?
Sabaa: I think a lot of it is about so many readers, young readers now are finally seeing themselves in story and that's not something that you or I probably really had. I don't remember ever reading a book about, not even just a Pakistani kid, but a Muslim kid or a brown kid, let's just go broader and better.
Kousha: How broad can we go?
Sabaa: I didn't see-- exactly and so just being able to see these stories with people who look like us, act like us are from the same places as us it's very validating. It allows us to know that we're here, we're present in the world and that we're speaking our stories and we're being remembered and I think that that's something that a lot of my readers really relate to in both my fantasy books and the contemporary All My Rage.
Kousha: Let's go to the phones. We're going to hear from Charmila in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Charmila. Hi.
Charmila: Hi, how are you?
Kousha: I'm wonderful. How are you? Thanks for calling.
Charmila: I'm good, thank you.
Kousha: Tell us, how has the significance of-- Well, let me ask first, were you born outside the country? I don't want to want to assume.
Charmila: Yes. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka until I was 24 and I got married in Sri Lanka and I moved to US. I am a single mom right now. The part that's really sad is you come to US thinking that it's going to change, you have this dream, but I felt like no matter how much the education that you get and how much you try to assimilate, I feel deep inside me, I'm a lost citizen because I'm not [unintelligible 00:34:50] I can't go back to Sri Lanka. I feel it's a very big cultural shock, even in States, I feel like I'm not there. It's tough.
Kousha: I hear that that idea of a lost citizen, I think is something that is hard to understand unless you've experienced it and lost citizen is such a wonderful, such an accurate and tragic way of describing it. Thank you. Can I ask you, how has that evolved for you? Has it changed? Were you expecting something different when you got here versus when we are here today? Tell me more about that.
Charmila: Yes, of course when I got here I was 24 and you think at that 24 you can do anything. You're young and you are naive and you jump into all those things, but then later on you get these feelings, you understand that, no, you're not part of this society now, but you go through colleges, you get your certifications and all that, but still, I feel deep inside, it's very hard to get recognized sometimes.
Kousha: Thank you so much Charmila for sharing that and wishing you the best. Let's move on to Katayun in the Bronx. Katayun. Hi.
Katayun: Hey, Kousha, how are you?
Kousha: I'm wonderful. How are you? Thanks so much for calling.
Katayun: Thank you for taking my call.
Katayun: I was just wanting to respond to your idea of the transitions that one goes through as an immigrant and as a young kid, I grew up during the hostage crisis, so I definitely tried to hide my immigrant status. Then as I went through high school and started to think about college, I was in this weird middle ground where I had a highly educated father, but he had been educated in Iran. He knew nothing about college or how to help his young daughter apply for college. I had to figure it out all by myself.
Now as a professor myself I see how difficult it is for so many of the immigrant students in the New York City area to navigate higher education. I think, like the last caller said, I feel like not only do I sometimes have to wear the first gen hat as someone who comes from a family with education, but I'm also a first gen professional.
I didn't really have anybody to learn from and so my immigrant status is something I actually carry as a badge and I really try to connect to the immigrant students and the students who are first gen from that angle. It's been a real shift for me as someone who hit it as a young person and now is a blaze with it, I guess.
Kousha: Katayun, thank you so much. That is such a fascinating idea that you have these geopolitical influences, but also that you're first gen in so many ways, not just like, "Hey, I'm trying to figure out how to date, but no, I'm sorry, I'm trying to figure out how to be a professor here."
Kousha: Sabaa, could you respond to that a little bit? Could you say, how is that for you? Katayun, thank you again so much. Go ahead.
Sabaa: It puts a responsibility on your shoulders a bit for the next generation because you want it to be easier for them. You don't want them to go through that and you want to be able to guide them. There's this sense especially for people within your field even who are immigrants, who are trying to make it. That's who I'm drawn to when it comes to mentoring, when it comes to helping, when it comes to boosting. It's like I want to help the people who I understand that plight because I went through it.
Kousha: Absolutely. Katayun, thank you again, didn't mean to cut you off there, but really appreciate you calling. Let's move on to caller number. Oh, okay. We've got caller one here, Yeshar from Brooklyn. Yeshar, hi. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Yeshar: Yes. Close enough. [laughs]
Kousha: How do you pronounce it?
Yeshar: It's Yeshar but it's hard for people-
Kousha: Yeshar, thank you so much.
Yeshar: Thank you.
Kousha: Absolutely. Go ahead.
Yeshar: I just want to say, thank you for taking my call and I'm fangirling a little bit right now because I'm a children and teen librarian, so I can't believe that I'm on the same call as Sabaa.
Sabaa: Hi, thank you for everything you do.
Sabaa: Which is the heroes right now. Always actually--
Katayun: Thank you for writing the books, [laughs] but what propelled me to call is just hearing the dating story and stuff. I came to this country when I was one, so I had just turned one before coming. For all intents and purposes, in my school world, I had "grow up being American", yet I never felt American. I was always made to feel like I was not from here. In terms of acceptance, in terms of everything and then it wasn't until I was a freshman in college taking anthropology class where I constantly referred to me being Indian and my Indian family and my Indian culture and my anthro professor was like, "What are you talking about? You're American." I'm like, "No, I'm not."
I didn't become an American citizen until I was 17. He was like, "How old were you when you got here?" I'm like, "One." He's like, "You've lived for 17 years in this country. You're American." It took that kind of argument for me to be like maybe I'm allowed to claim being American too. Then I felt like I couldn't win either way because until then or even through then in American society I always was seen as being Indian whereas at home, family members would be like, "Don't get too American. You're getting too American. Don't do that."
Kousha: I think a lot of people can actually relate to that piece.
Sabaa: You're stuck between two worlds absolutely.
Yeshar: One more thing I said to your screener is that because I work with kids and teens now I see that there's been a leap forward. I think it does have to do with kids being able to see themselves in media, in books, in films and TV that at least South Asian kids that I've seen definitely they use the word American when describing themselves. Sometimes they hyphenate, sometimes they don't. I think that's great. That getting to see themselves out in the world, getting to see role models has helped with that.
Kousha: First of all, Yeshar, thank you so much for calling. To pick up on your last point there. Reading this book All My Rage I know for me made a difference because I had never read something like that when I was a teenager. Now there are themes in there that go far beyond just what we're talking about tonight but just to see that these things we're talking about tonight are a part of it, was very special. I can imagine how that must feel for 16, 17 years old. Let's go to Louis in Bridgewater New Jersey. Louis hi.
Louis: Hello. How are you doing? Thank you for taking my call.
Kousha: Absolutely, go ahead.
Louis: I came here when I was a teenager. I was 13, 14 years old and I came here from Guatemala so not as far away from a few of your callers. I was just discussing with your screener that it actually feels weird because I don't feel myself as an American. At the same time I don't feel like I'm still Guatemala and I've been here for about 20 years of my life as it is. It's a bit of a question of identity about nationality if we can call it that.
Kousha: Absolutely. Our first caller actually was talking about that idea of being a lost citizen. How does that resonate for you?
Louis: I was thinking something more along the lines of maybe this is what feels like being stateless but I didn't want to call it that just because that's a more extreme way of saying it, so to speak. That would actually resonate a little bit.
Kousha: It does resonate a little bit. Tell me what do you think would be able to improve that feeling of place of belonging for you?
Louis: Part of it I think it's that I need to work on myself because just that uprooting on that critical period of my life I think did change me or word me in the way that I might need a couple sessions with a therapist just because I lost all my friends. I was falling in love for the very first time in my life and then I was yanked out of my environment and put into this random other place where I didn't speak the language.
I think a little bit of that on my end but also it's difficult to integrate yourself over here when you also see that there's people that don't accept you for being an immigrant as well, every now and then you think you're integrating yourself and then you see it on the news you know something happens, there's some racism or something on the news and then you realize that, oh yes, that's right. This could happen to me.
Kousha: Got you. Louis, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Much Gusto. Thank you so much for calling in and and sharing that with us. Two more callers, going to get to them quickly. First one Kareem in Chicago. Hi Kareem.
Kareem: Hi, how are you? Thank you for your show. I'm listening to you. I'm really enjoying it.
Kareem: I moved from Algeria which is in North Africa to Chicago 18 years ago and at first was difficult because of the language, because of immigration status but after a while when you learn the language you adapt, you work, you study, you integrate very easily. Even if I'm Arabic I'm Muslim. It's a matter of doing an effort.
I come from a country where we had barely any rights and I have kids here. They are US born and I tell them, "You are lucky you were born here." Me when I was a kid and I was in Algeria, I was abused. They hit us. They forced us to speak Arabic by force. They forced us to be Muslims by force. You come here, nobody's bothering you. You live your life, I can go to the mosque, nobody's bothering me. When you go in front of a judge, in most cases the judge is going to be fair. There's barely any corruption. At the end of the day I love it here. This is my country.
Kousha: Absolutely. Kareem, thank you so much. It resonates with me how you say there's all these different ways that we can find ourselves coming from Algeria and trying to understand how it evolves over time is really difficult. Sabaa, I want to talk to you right now as we've heard all these calls and again there's too many for us to get through so thank you all so much. One thing that strikes me while I think about all these calls, and even as our two stories is just how wide the spectrum is of experiences here of being an immigrant, but is there a through line for you?
Sabaa: I think one of the things that I'm hearing is where do we belong? If we don't belong here and we don't belong there, where is our place? I think one of the things that I've found over my life is my home is with my friends and very close friends are almost all immigrants themselves. We've created our own country and our own home and our own space. That's something that if there are people who feel lost that is something that I hope that they can turn to is if you don't feel like you have a home, if you do feel like that lost citizen, finding the people who understand that deeply in their bones.
Kousha: I appreciate how you can feel it deeply in your bones. It's a part of your DNA. As you think about the next chapter of your life, how do you hope your place as an immigrant evolves?
Sabaa: I hope that I'm always grateful for the opportunities that I've gotten here in America that I might not have gotten if I lived elsewhere. I hope that I'll always keep that empathy for anyone who's new and finding their place and finding their footing and struggling and that I will always be willing to reach out a hand. I think that's one of the things that has really made America special is the fact that immigrants do that for each other. That they reach out a hand, they help the people who need it. Just like your father helped Christina's family.
Kousha: That was wonderful, wasn't it? Even though it was news it's such a nice gift to get even after the fact. Sabaa, let's leave it there. Sabaa Tahir is the author of All My Rage, winner of the National Book Award, the Trade Paperback Releases March 7th. Thanks so much, Sabaa.
Sabaa: Thank you.
Kousha: Now if you have something to say about tonight's episode and it looks a lot of you do, send us a message. Thank you all so much for your calls. Our email is email@example.com.
You can also record a message on our website. Go to notesfromamerica.org and click on the green button that says, Start Recording. Hopefully we can do a follow up segment to this one.
Notes from America is a production of WNYC Studios. Our theme music and sound design is by Jared Paul, Milton Ruiz was back at the boards for the live show.
Our team includes Regina de Heer, Karen Frillman, Vanessa Handy, Rahima Nasa, Kai Wright and Lindsay Foster Thomas. Our executive producer is Andre Robert Lee and I am Kousha Navidar.
As always I hope you'll join us for the live version of the show next Sunday 6:00 PM. Take care of yourselves and each other.
[00:48:55] [END OF AUDIO]
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