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Interview for

Nawan family (Sanger Nawan)


Interviewed By:

Simone Wallk

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 1:13:49

The Nawan family describes their journey from Afghanistan to the United States and the challenges they faced in both countries. They explain how they hid their Baha'i faith in Afghanistan, and how their faith has affected their experience in America.

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Additional Notes

This interview was recorded in two parts, so you may hear sudden shifts in conversation as a result. The second part begins at 43:58.

Narrator: Nawan Family

Date: 7/1/2020

Location: Fairfax, VA

Summary: This interview discusses the Nawan family’s journey from Afghanistan to the US and the challenges they faced in both countries. It also focuses on the Nawan’s faith in Baha'i and how it affected their experiences in both Afghanistan and the US.

Topics: religion, family, education, childhood, future, gratitude

Outline - Part 1 of Oral History:

Section 1: (00:00-07:55)

  • Immigration: The Nawan family (husband, wife, and two kids) immigrated from Afghanistan to Alexandria, VA in 2018. They moved because of the war occurring in Afghanistan and because they didn’t feel safe living there.

  • Education: The kids were forced to learn Arabic, had to wear burkas, and learned Islamic subjects, even though they were not Muslim. The kids also learned about fighting and guns when they were learning the alphabet.

  • Employment: Both mother and father worked for the US back in Afghanistan which contributed to them not feeling safe living in Afghanistan because of the hate they got. Mother and father both worked on USAID projects such as DAI and chemonics.

Section 2: (07:55-16:39)

  • Religion: Nawan family was born Baha'i but found that the first time they left Afghanistan to move to Pakistan, they were able to more freely practice Baha’i due to their being more religious tolerance in Pakistan compared to Afghanistan.

  • Community: The Nawan family found that the Baha’i community was much more accepting than the Islamic community and were able to find a community of 20 Baha’i in Virginia too.

  • Family: Mr. and Mrs. Nawan were cousins but grew up in different regions of Afghanistan. They met when Mrs. Nawan’s aunt invited her to the city.

Section 3: (16:39-26:18)

  • Acceptance: In Pakistan, the Baha'i community was registered with the government but the people of Pakistan were not as accepting. However the community was still allowed to practice their faith as they wished. In Afghanistan, other faiths besides Islam were not accepted or allowed to be practiced so the Nawan family was forced to practice their faith in secret.

  • Festivities: There were four main activities done to follow the Baha’i faith such as teaching their children, studying the holy books, and feasts.

  • Community: The Baha’i community started to expand in Afghanistan, to about 18 provinces. The Nawan family helped connect other people of the Baha’i faith and individuals who were thinking of converting.

Section 4: (26:18-33:57)

  • Freedom: The Nawan family felt they had no freedom in Afghanistan because they could not practice their faith freely and had to hide a large portion of who they were.

  • Muslim society: The Nawan family had to fit into Muslim society to blend in and therefore had to wear Burkas whenever they went out, could only wear certain colors, and had to send their kids to the mosque to learn the Qur’an.

  • Hiding: Mr. and Mrs. Nawan had to pretend they were Muslim whenever they went out, by following the rules the Muslim had for men and women. No one knew that they followed the Baha’i faith, except for select friends that they trusted.

Section 5: (33:57-43:58)

  • Moving: They wanted to move to America because they no longer felt safe in Afghanistan especially because Mr. Nawan was working with the US and there were many bomb blasts targetting people who worked with the US so they decided to apply for the Special Immigration Visa.

  • Freedom: The Nawan family wanted to come to America to have freedom. They wanted to be able to practice their faith and wanted their girls to be treated better, and not be scared of going outside.

  • Family: The Nawan family left their immediate family back in Afghanistan along with their friends. They miss their friends and family but do not miss living in Afghanistan at all.

Outline - Part 2 of Oral History:

Section 1: (00:00-09:14)

  • First Impressions: At first the Nawan family was nervous about coming to America as they didn’t speak English and did not know what the culture/environment was like but once they landed, everyone they met was very nice and friendly, alleviating all concerns they had.

  • Family: They had family and friends in Virginia who helped them get settled in at Alexandria and helped them through the journey.

  • School: Nisa, one of the children, had a hard time adjusting to school in America as she was scared that the teachers were like the teachers back in Afghanistan.

  • Move: The Lutheran social services helped the Nawan family get settled into their new apartment and provided them with money to get started with their new life in America.

Section 2: (09:14-17:50)

  • Community: When the Nawan family arrived in the US, they were able to find a Baha’i community which they found helped them transition into the US.

  • Religion: They were able to freely practice their religion but the children went to school with many Muslim children and sometimes found it hard to express that even though they were Afghani, they were not Muslim and would not partake in Muslim traditions.

  • Work: Both husband and wife were able to find jobs in the US and became friends with the Afghani that were their colleagues.

Section 3: (17:50-29:23)

  • Early Life in US: In the beginning when they first moved to the US, the Nawan family had no car and lived in a one bedroom apartment but still found that life in the US was much better than the life they left behind in Afghanistan.

  • Happiness: No matter the struggles the Nawan family had settling into the US, they never feared that their kids wouldn't return home from school because something bad happened like in Afghanistan, and were always happy to be in the US because of the safety and freedom they had.

  • Dreams: The kids have big dreams about their futures and now have the opportunities to make those dreams come true.

  • Opportunities: Here in the US, the kids have the opportunity to pursue any passions they have such as painting, playing an instrument, and even swimming.

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