English Feature #7-34080 Broadcast September 11, 2000
Today on New American Voices a Kurdish immigrant talks about the process of adjusting to life in a new country, and about some of her concerns about her children growing up in the American culture. An energetic, red-haired woman in her thirties, Shayan Pasha came to the United States four years ago with her two sons - Rabin, who was then thirteen years old, and Dereen, who was nine. Her husband, a Kurdish political activist, had been killed before her eyes four years previously by armed men who knocked on the door of their home, verified his name, and then shot him.
Mrs. Pasha came from Suleimaniyah, in northern Iraq, where she had been working as a project officer for the United Nations. She was one of 5,000 Iraqi Kurds and employees of international organizations who were airlifted out by the United States following an Iraqi army incursion into northern Iraq in late 1996. After some months on the U-S Pacific island of Guam, Mrs. Pasha was resettled in Fairfax County in northern Virginia, not far from Washington. Life in the United States both met her expectations, and didn’t.
“Yes and no, I have to say both of them, because yes, freedom is everywhere, people here are free to say whatever they want to say, they can live the life that they want to live, and for American citizens their life is very easy. But for us as an immigrant it was very hard. As a political asylee I expected to receive more support, especially in the beginning while I was, you know, starting all over again. It was very hard for me to start all over from zero without any support. I was struggling so bad with life in the beginning, especially the first year, I have to say.”
With some initial financial support from the Fairfax County government, Mrs. Pasha managed to start a new life. Her boys started school, and, although she had an engineering diploma, she found a job as a cashier. She found her new American colleagues to be open and friendly - up to a point.
“Very friendly, very, very friendly, I have to say that. I have a lot of American friends. Some of them have a point, like when I got this job, and I got promoted several times one after the other, some of them have like this kind of comment, - how an immigrant, coming from somewhere else, and within a very short period of time got a supervisory position, and I was supervising them. But that was very normal for me, I mean they have the right to say that, they didn’t know my qualification, they didn’t know my background, they didn’t know how well I did at home, so that here I’m able to go the further mile. I’m willing to go.”
Now, four years after coming to the United States, Shayan Pasha feels comfortable in both worlds, the Kurdish and the American. Her friends are both Kurds and Americans. She says that she herself had little difficulty adjusting to life in America. Her concern is more for her children.
“I never have a problem with the culture itself, because I came from a very civilized city, and fortunately from an educated family, too. I came with an open mind, so life here was very normal to me. I’m a little bit more concerned about my kids. I mean, I would like to keep my kids under my control, I’m so worried to let them go, in the white society, especially I don’t want them to start with problems, with friends, there is so many issues about drugs, you know - so I’m more concerned about the kids, not myself.”
Her children, Shayan Pasha feels, have adapted very quickly to American ways - something which is not always easy for her to accept.
“For them, because they were kids when they came here, it was much easier to get into the society. And so they try to adopt most of the behaviors, manners, feeling very free to talk, to go wherever they want to go, this kind of stuff. It’s hard for me to adjust to it, because in our culture kids are more restricted from doing things, they have to ask their families more, and their opinions to do things. Here, kids are more open to do things on their own.”
Rabin Pasha, the older son, is now seventeen. Given the concerns that his mother has about the freedom allowed American teenagers generally, he does find that in some respects she is different from the parents of his American friends. Next week on New American Voices young Rabin Pasha talks about how he tries to resolve this conflict, as well as about some of the other issues of growing up both Kurdish and American.