This past weekend, I attended the first nationwide Afghan-American Conference, held at UC Berkeley. Our diaspora, from around the nation, travelled to meet in the intellectual and revolutionary hub that makes Berkeley infamous. We all had different stories, different upbringings, different professions and interests. Some were still students, some college graduates, and others, immensely successful professionals who have excelled beyond my expectations. But one thing remained the same. This was our love for the motherland. We all could identify with the feeling of being Afghan and American.
And we were all tired. Tired of the victimization, tired of remaining stagnant. Tired of seeing our homeland burn while we tried to save it from so far away. So we all decided to focus on what we can do here. We decided we wouldn’t let each other down. We decided that we are a family, and we would collectively get over the hurdles of being Afghan and American. I can wholeheartedly say that I met 100 brothers and 100 sisters I never knew I had. I can say I felt emotions I had never felt before. I can say that we made connections that will last a lifetime.
Everyone’s eyes were so warm. Every hug felt so genuine. And every “safe space” was just that – a platform where I could cry to my sisters about women’s issues. A room where our brothers could tell us that they too, are vulnerable.
We tackled mental health issues that plague the Afghan diaspora – PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug abuse. Things that our culture tells us to sweep under the rug. We embraced our statistics, we finally took ownership of our faults. These brave and lionhearted people; we were able to stand even more courageous in the face of our weaknesses.
And we danced. The beautiful classic rubab and tabla by Qais and Eman jaan blared through loudspeakers, as we all listened to the ancient melodies of our homeland. We even had a moment that only us Afghan-Americans can understand – an Afghan rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo” by Gina and Samir Karimi jaan. And we closed that nights event like we always do – with the Ataan, that ancient song of our forefathers, the 6,000 year old dance we partake in times of war, love, and solitude. Can you believe that? Thousands of miles from home, and the Ataan continues to bring us together. This dance is probably my favorite part of being Afghan, but it meant so much more doing it with my new family.
I am awake. I am enlightened. I will work even harder now, tenfold. So many were pessimistic about this conference, that it might be another mela or gossip-fest. But to all those who did not attend, I can tell you that there is a community of highly educated and dedicated Afghans who are fighting tooth and nail for your life. And I am proud to say I stood among them.
Zma wataan. Zma khalko. My people. These are my people. I love every single one of you. And to those special 8 that held this event; Salmon, Sophie, Gina, Samera, Zachia, Arzo, Farhat and Hosna. Thank you, hazar-dafa, for your efforts, and for believing in us.
This is a new beginning. This is the first page in the history of the Afghan-American diaspora. Our children, and their children, will look back at the pioneers of our diaspora. And I am confident, that together, we can work towards building ourselves from within, so that we can pay homage to our ancestral home.
“I am involved in the land of a ‘Leonine’ (lion-like) and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier. You have brought only one Alexander into the world, but every mother in this land has brought an Alexander in the world.”
-Alexander the Great, in a letter to his mother while on a campaign in present-day Afghanistan