By Rahat Mawlavizada

In the late 20th century, the once green and glorious fields of Afghanistan became swarmed with the corruption of the communist invasion. My father, young and ambitious, left Afghanistan’s hostile environment and fled to the Unites States in 1983. Although he was merely the age of 21, he fled his home in Kabul in hopes of more opportunities and a better life. Sadly looking back at the war torn country, my father still hopes that one day, peace will be restored and he will be able to return to his homeland. My father, Sharif Mawlavizada: an afghan man, grateful immigrant, and learned American.

As early as I can remember, my childhood was filled with hardship and struggles. When I was merely the age of eight, my father passed away and I became the man to support my family. My younger siblings were too young to care for themselves, so I took it upon myself to bring food to the table and keep a roof over our heads. Ever since the age of eleven, I would set off each day in my western inspired clothing, and struggle to make money by selling books at my uncle’s bookstore. When I’d go home, I would open the doors to smell the aroma of my mother’s cooking as I go change into my traditional Afghan clothing. Despite my father’s absence, life in Kabul seemed relaxed and peaceful, not so hectic and busy as my life today. Yet, because of the chaos in Afghanistan, I was compelled to immediately find refuge elsewhere.

I was a very outspoken individual, and I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind. The soviets invasion of my home country ignited great hatred within me. My friends and I would criticize the Soviets openly. This sparked much animosity. Young men were being forced to fight for the communists and because of my frank manner, I knew that I would be next. Thus I had to think fast, and immediately decided to flee to Pakistan. My mother and younger siblings stayed in Kabul. I was 18 years old when I left Afghanistan; however, this is easier said than done. I paid a man 20,000 Afghanis to take me in his jeep to Peshawar, Pakistan. If anyone was caught with any documentation, they would be suspected of attempting to escape Afghanistan and would be taken to jail. Thus, my mother sewed my high school diploma on the inside of my jacket. However, when the police stopped us at one of the post stops to Pakistan, he frisked me and right when his hands came across my diploma, my heart beat faster as I learned that I was to be held custody. My guide was told to proceed, while I couldn’t. I knew then that I would be imprisoned. The thought that my poor mother would think me dead made me heartbroken. But, when one of the police officer’s acquaintances came by the post and was given a look of approval to pass, as if by sudden instinct, I jumped into the passenger seat of the car while the police officer wasn’t looking. The driver of the vehicle saw my terrified expression, and pitying me, let me stay. At that moment, I felt God looking over me and blessed Him for my good luck as I continued my voyage to Peshawar. Millions attempted to make this voyage, yet many died along the way. But I was one of the luckier ones. Consequently, after I arrived in Peshawar, I was fortunately reunited with my guide who was terror stricken with the thought of having to tell my family that I was nowhere to be found. Then from Pakistan I went to Iran for about a year, and then to Austria. In Austria, I learned the native German language, and also about the renowned country of America. I’ve always imagined that Austria was the only place that can provide me with a better future, yet little did I know that the U.S would open even more doors.

And so, I took a plane to the U.S. I was ready to embark on the great journey ahead of me and establish a better life for myself. There were many agencies in Austria that informed people about the United States. America seemed very glorified and surreal in my eyes. I knew that the freedom I seeked will be fulfilled in America. I knew that I would be introduced to different people, different in style and custom than what I grew up. But I was ready to welcome and embrace those differences and take advantage of the opportunities I was deprived of.

Stepping out and taking my first steps on American soil, I felt a surge of relief. In 1983, I arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, where I stayed for two years. I knew living in the U.S would be very difficult. To make a living, I worked at a gas station, while I went to school at George Tech to learn English. Then I studied engineering at DeVry College for about three years. Attending college, while simultaneously working, presented many obstacles. I struggled tremendously to make ends meet, and still have enough money to pay for my necessities. During one of my shifts at the gas station, I was held at gunpoint by a man covered by a black mask who demanded that I hand over all the cash in the register. I was completely scared for my life and agreed to do whatever he commanded. Besides that one incident, my life became a constant routine, until my mother called me to tell me the news of my upcoming arranged marriage. I was surprised by my mother’s frankness, but I knew that in my culture, this was common. From this news, I went back to Pakistan in 1987, where I only knew my betrothed for nearly a week before I became engaged to Mariam Mawlavizada. Then I went back to Georgia and was later reunited with my fiancée a year later to be married. We stayed in Georgia for about another year and a half, where we had three children before we made our trip to California. In California, I worked for a computer company called IBM for a while before I started working as a repairman for a T.V repair store. While working at the repair shop, I would repair different appliances in my garage to sell at the flea market. After working many years at the repair shop, I opened a store of my own. And from then on, I have established a flourishing car stereo business. I have become a self-employed manager and entrepreneur and have improved so much from the naïve and inexperienced young man I was many years before. I always aimed to become an engineer, but never in a million years did I imagine that I would become such a successful businessman.

Coming to America required me to reevaluate my priorities. I was oblivious to many of the ways and routes I should take to reach where I am right now. When I came to America, I did not know anybody, but one friend. This benevolent individual gave me a place to live when I had none. To this day I am still in touch with him, never forgetting his kind gratitude. Having to cope with the new culture and ways of America has taught me responsibility and the effect of hard work. Although at times I became overwhelmed with a sense of loneliness by the thought of all the family I left behind in Afghanistan, I constantly reminded myself that with this great sacrifice, I have gained much education and experience in return. Much of my time was filled with studying and working in which the time for my own leisure has reduced drastically. However, my children will now be able to have the opportunities that I was deprived of as a child when I was their age. Due to my hopes to ensure their well being, I have sacrificed much. 

Because everything in the U.S revolved around knowing the chief language, English, I needed to learn it fast. I didn’t know much of the language and no one understood me either. The idea that I would be hindered by my foreign tongue angered me at times, but it still frightened me. I wanted dearly to be able to communicate with people, yet this obstacle merely instilled the determination in me even more to do well in this foreign country. Even though at times I am afraid that my children will lose their culture, I always remember to encourage them to be consistent with our own customs, but at the same time be open to others as well.

Once I arrived in America, I was very anxious to how people would react to my presence, as well as how I would interact with them. I was disturbed by this anxiety, yet relieved by how welcoming people were. I realized that to be in America, I just can’t simply sit around and hope that money will come to me. I have to grasp each opportunity and make the best of it. And because of this, I have worked even harder to reach my goals and succeed. I came from a country where I left behind everything and lost everything. Thus I was very grateful and happy for all the opportunities I was given to make a better future for myself.

America provides one with endless opportunities. These opportunities provide individuals with the freedom to create a life for themselves. Although there were many instances where I felt overwhelmed by the strangeness of the new environment I was in, I never gave in to conform. Retaining my culture is very important to me, and I have stayed strong with my beliefs and morals ever since I first arrived to this great country. Many, like me, are able to retain their native culture, while still having the benefits of an American.

I am a fellow immigrant. I turned to America for aid and assistance when I was in dire need of help. And for that I agree that many should be able to have the same opportunities that I have had granted by immigration. The opportunities that I was given has privileged me in so many ways. I wish others seeking a safe haven the same happiness that I received in the United States. However, exploiting the U.S and all it offers by illegally immigrating and depriving those who truly need jobs is very disagreeable to me. However, I would like every person, despite their ethnicity or culture, to be able to turn to the U.S to change their lives for the better. After all, I never fail to remind my children of my struggles and difficulties to instill the determination in them to continuously enhance their education. I am incredibly thankful for my life in America, for each barrier that I was forced to overcome has made me the strong individual I am today.