The hardest part of being an immigrant is adapting to one’s newly adopted home. My family struggled with decoding the basics of living in the United States. I wish my parents had access to the Immigrant Success Planning: A Family Resource Guide, by my friend, Afghan American author, Atta Arghandiwal.
This book has detailed “how to” guide for immigrants in the U.S. and Canada ranging from basic to complex issues: how to shop, how to find a rental, how to manage finances, how to find a job, how to become a citizen and more.
My family’s life changed dramatically after the Russian invasion of 1979. There was an exodus of middle class Afghans from Afghanistan. Mine was one of the hundred of families who settled in the Bay Area. Luckily, we found a community of other Afghan immigrant families who were also struggling just like us. Our parents gathered over large platters of Mantoo, a coveted Afghan dumpling dish or the hearty meat and potato Qorma and advised each other on food stamp collection, San Jose flea market bargains, and the complexity of getting medical care in America.
For me, food is what has kept my Afghan family comforted through years of turbulence, uncertainty and loss. Back home we had a cook who made all the meals under mom’s supervision and instruction. My mom, Jeja, saw cooking as a chore, which she hoped her daughters would never have to do. But, it’s her generation that holds the secret to the art of authentic Afghan cuisine. Our families were who had access best ingredients for making gourmet Afghan cuisine.
Initially, the newly immigrated Afghan women such as my mother, scoured grocery stores and Indian markets in Northern California for ingredients. The delicious aroma of coriander, cumin, and cardamom slowly healed the wounds of their loss and soothed their fears of their new life. Now, there is an Afghan market or restaurant in every corner of Fremont and surrounding cities.
Immigrant children, such as myself, adapt quickly to their new home and are happy to embrace their new lives. Adults on the other hand struggle to re-build the foundation of the life they lost. They hold on to their culture -- assimilation is considered a betrayal of their mother country.
Looking back at my turbulent childhood of moving from Afghanistan to India, back to Afghanistan -- then to Pakistan, followed by Germany and finally the United States. There is one common thread of familiarity --my mother’s Afghan food that always kept me grounded and connected to my roots.
I think Atta has done a great service to many who arrive at this the land of milk and honey by providing them an instruction’s manual. I feel the practical advice, summary notes highlighting specific points and pull out boxes with positive and supportive life lesson from Atta’s own immigrant experience is what makes this book so useful and usable.
Atta is the award winning author of a memoir Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story and Immigrant Success Planning. Visit his extensive website, www.attamoves.com where he shares a wealth of information for new immigrants.
Humaira Ghilzai of Afghan Culture Unveiled Interviews Atta Arghandiwal
Humaira: How did you transition from writing a memoir to a "How to" book?
Atta: I started writing three different books simultaneously -- Memoir, Immigrant Success Planning, as well as a Leadership Guide for immigrants.
But writing the “Immigrant Success Planning” was always on my mind from early days of arrival to my years in the Financial Services industry. In the end, I was encouraged by several authors to publish the memoir first -- to build a platform.
Humaira: Most immigrants don't speak English when they need a resource book like yours. Is your book available in other languages?
Atta: Unfortunately, not at this point. I am looking into translation possibilities Farsi, Spanish, Chinese and Arabic I do feel that immigrant families usually have at least a couple members of family who speak English. My hope is that most people will benefit from this handy resource.
Humaira: Did your family have problems finding ingredients to make authentic Afghan food?
Atta: Yes, resources were indeed scarce in early years – I remember going to Indian stores in Berkeley almost every week. My family loves to cook. There experts within our family in the Bay Area who pass their knowledge and heritage to the younger generation.
Humaira: What are your favorite Afghan dishes?
Humaira: Do you cook Afghan food?
Atta: My brothers and I have been completely spoiled from day one -- our mother and seven sisters are all amazing cooks. My wife Halima, is an amazing cook who prepares delicious Afghan food. I like to do prep and the clean up.