Photo: Micaela Fein

Ilaha O.


37, Humanitarian
San Francisco, CA

I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. My mother was eight months pregnant with me, when a Government informant warned her that her father-in-law, (my paternal grandfather), the Minister of Commerce, was placed on a hit list by the Communist Party in an effort to disband the political system. On the eve of September 15, 1979 as President Taraki of Afghanistan was brutally assassinated against the backdrop of chaos and the spark of a coup d’état, I decided that it was time for me to join the world. By a mere stroke of luck, my aunt, Faozia managed to secure military escort to a hospital with only one doctor available. It was a historic & pivotal night in our country as well as for my mother, but for very different reasons. At 40 days old, cradled in my mother’s arms, my parents & I fled Kabul in secret, and arrived in Frankfurt, Germany under political asylum. Our new “home” was a stark hotel occupied by hundreds of other Afghan refugees. My father spent his days traveling to Frankfurt airport to help receive a flood of incoming refugee men, women & children. For me, 37 years hence, it is a dark reminder, of both where I come from and yet, as humanity, where we are still. That in 2017, the narrative of Afghan refugees arriving at airports across the world still exist in our cultural zeitgeist. And worse still, that currently my very own resident land, refuses to accept them at all. After shuffling between 5 different hotels in Frankfurt & Hamburg, we finally arrived in the United States on the 3rd of September 1980. It was serendipitous that at JFK airport, I walked my first steps. I ponder now, back to the crucial events in my first year of life, set to the background of war, coup d’état, asylum, & airports, and that everything has led me to this moment, this point in our history. Fun Fact: When I was young I used to believe that I was an alien because of my resident alien card.

Why did your family come to the United States? We came to the United States to escape war...and thereby find peace.

What would the U.S. be missing out on if you or your people were banned? A family who gets together for weekly dinners and Laguna Beach picnics, thirty years running. A family who holds Costco cards with pride, and loves to buy and sell used cars as a pastime. A family who celebrates Thanksgiving as a themed costume party, featuring Afghan palow (rice) along with turkey and traditional holiday fixings.