Is Obama’s immigration policy shift really a DREAM come true?

To read the original post in the Seattle Globalist and more stories follow this link:

When I first saw the email alert, “Obama offers immunity to younger immigrants,” I could hardly believe it was true.

President Obama had signed an executive order that was a modified version of the DREAM Act, vowing to not deport undocumented youth under 30, and giving them the opportunity to temporarily work in the U.S. legally.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the news was a young high school student named Amy Lee.

Last month, after a presentation I gave in a Federal Way High School, a teacher pulled me aside.

“I have a student, she is the brightest student in the entire class, has the highest grades, and AP credits towards college,” she explained, “but she’s…..undocumented.”

The way she whispered this word under her breath made me realize she expected me to gasp in disbelief. I explained that I work for the immigrant rights organization OneAmerica where I focus on expanding educational pathways in South King County for immigrant students, some of whom are undocumented, and that I might be able to help her.

I walked into the teacher’s back office to see a girl hanging her head. Amy explained that she had received a $19,000 merit scholarship to Pacific Lutheran University, but she still needed $11,000 more for tuition and had no idea how she will pull it together. As an undocumented student she does not qualify for any type of federal or state aid or loans. Just a few days before, I had learned of a scholarship that was going to be offered in Washington State solely to undocumented students. As I told her this a huge smile appeared on her face.

I left her school with a promise from her that she would not give up and a promise from me that I would do whatever I could to get her enrolled in college in the fall.

She now tells me the day we met she was at one of her lowest points. She was about to give up on college and dreams of a career to be a doctor.


Then she found this glimmer of hope.

Later Amy emailed me her college entry essay. I read her story detailing everything her family had been through to come to the US. During an economic recession in South Korea ten years ago, her parents’ prosperous business went bankrupt. They were left with nothing. They moved into a tiny abandoned house and often struggled just to eat one meal a day.

When I asked her about her life growing up in Korea Amy told me,

“Every week after church, my father put me on the backseat of his bike while my mother put my brother on the backseat of her bike. We went biking through the city’s park, enjoying the sun, the breeze, but most of all, each others presence. It was a moment when we were able to forget about all the bad things. The time was not an escape from hardships, but more of a declaration that we were strong enough to cherish joy through anything.”

I could see that in Amy, this appreciation for life permeates everything she does. Even in those first moments I met her when she was feeling defeated, I noticed the light in her. She has taken all of her life experiences and melded it into the person she is, making her more resilient and hardworking. She makes you believe in her and want to work just as hard for her success as she is working.

I spent the next few weeks pulling all the strings I had in my power. I called various scholarship funds, educational access organizations, and even the financial aid office at Pacific Lutheran University.

When the Realize the Dream Scholarship was released, I sent her the information thinking this is the answer. She called me two days later to tell me she doesn’t qualify because she had not been in the state for 2 years; her family only recently came to Washington from California.

On June 14th, the night before Obama’s announcement, as I was leaving work for the day something told me to call Amy. She picked up on the third ring and told me about her high school graduation – how proud she felt about her high academic attainment but how her college plans still hung in limbo.

She was having another particularly hard day and said, “Well even if I do go to school, work hard and get my degree, what next? I can’t work.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt a bit naïve and embarrassed for always coaching her to not give up and to continue persevering.  The privileges I had in my life that allowed me to be anything I want to be and pursue the American dream, were only fantasies to her.

For the first time, what it meant to live as an undocumented person actually hit me.

The next morning, when I heard President Obama’s announcement, I immediately called Amy.

I asked her if she had checked her email or seen the news. Puzzled, she responded that she hadn’t. I told her the news. The line went silent for a few moments and then she screamed, “Are you serious?”

Though I realized to Amy this announcement seemed like somewhat of a miracle, as someone deeply steeped in the immigrant rights movement, I understood the eleven years of effort and activism it took to make this moment a reality. Organizing dozens of rallies and marches; resolving conflicts between pushing comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM act; mobilizing communities to build awareness; and finally, moving house legislators to pass the DREAM bill in 2010 just to watch it fail in congress. Though I was cautious of Amy presuming this was the answer to all her concerns, clearly it was a step in the right direction.

An hour later, Amy arrived at my office with her mother and a typed speech in hand. I had explained to her that OneAmerica was hosting a press conference about the legislation and without hesitation Amy said, “I’m coming, I want to tell my story.”

Isuddenly felt protective of her, knowing that she has been waiting for this moment but also wanting her to be aware of the implications of telling her story. I felt worried for the vulnerability she would feel exposing herself suddenly in the public eye. I was keenly aware of the myths surrounding undocumented immigrants and the negative outpouring that often follows these stories. “Go home, you don’t belongs here. You broke the law, you are a criminal.” She was going to hear it all.

I asked her to think long and hard on the drive over about if she was ready to do this. When she arrived at the office, I realized there was no stopping her. She was determined to tell the world about the life she has been living for the last 10 years.

With the cameras rolling, Amy shared her story for the first time.

She told everyone how she has been forced to live in the shadows. Not only because she is undocumented but also because she is Korean. Not having papers is a hidden issue in the Korean community and one that is shameful.

“When you have depression or a drug addiction there are all these places you can turn to for help,” she said. “Even when my family received threats that we would be deported, I had no one to turn to or get help from because I had to keep this secret and couldn’t trust anyone.” She went on to describe the poverty her family escaped in Korea to be smuggled over the Mexican border when she was just 8 years old.  She explained, “It was not the right method but we needed to live.”

After the press conference, every local news station was lined up waiting for a chance to speak with her. KIRO, KOMO, Q13 Foxand KING all wanted a piece of Amy’s story. The media could see the extraordinary plight in her struggles and how she represented the estimated 800,000 youth or ‘Dreamers’ in the U.S. who, thanks to Obama’s move, have renewed hope and options for a meaningful future.

Amy did seven different interviews with grace and poise that defied her 18 years of age while connecting with other undocumented youth and activists who had used their struggles to  build a movement. Throughout the day, I watched as she transformed from someone who feels ostracized and alone to suddenly having the eyes and ears of so many people, and most importantly, the power to define her own story.

When I asked her how all this has impacted her she told me, “It’s the biggest change that has happened for me. It means another step that I will be able to take without discouragement.A step to walk through a door that I’ve always wanted to open but never had the key. A step towards improving my physical, mental, and emotional health.”

Between her interviews I walked her over to her family to congratulate them on their incredible daughter and they responded with a beaming smile.  Her grandfather, who ironically is a U.S. citizen, was waiting in a Dodge minivan with her grandmother sitting next to him and Amy’s mother in the backseat. Interacting with her family I realized how much their demeanor and appreciation seemed similar to my family’s experience as immigrants.

I thought about  Amy’s response when one reporter asked her, “Do you consider yourself American?”

“I am Korean-American. What can I say? I grew up here, it is the only home I know. I am just like any other American kid except that immigration status determines my opportunities in life.”

After the interviews Amy went home with her beaming family and I went back to my desk feeling like it was one of the best days I had in a long time. I felt so proud of Amy and lucky that for some odd reason, our paths had crossed when they did.

As a result of this decision, so many opportunities are now available to Amy.  Not only she can continue her life without the fear of deportation but the doors to temporary legal employment have been opened to her.

Still, without a clear pathway to U.S. citizenship, her college plans remain uncertain. She’s $11,000 away from being able to afford that dream.

So we’ll continue working, marching, acting, and sharing her story in hopes that one day all the barriers to the bright future she deserves will be lifted.


Roxana Norouzi has worked with immigrant and refugee populations in the Seattle area for the past 10 years. Currently, she provides strategic guidance around education policy and implementation for OneAmerica, Washington State’s largest immigrant right’s organization. In 2010, Roxana was awarded the University of Washington’s Bonderman Fellowship which allowed her to travel to the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, East Africa, West Africa and South America.

As war rages on, a message from inside Syria

 To read the original post in the Seattle Globalist and more stories follow this link:

I was staying at a beachfront hotel in Zanzibar, Tanzania when I saw the first images of the unrest in Syria on TV.

I watched footage of Syrians in the southern city of Deraa brazenly burning the pictures of President Bashar al-Assad that once lined every street, store, restaurant, and home.

I was glued to the news, watching the turmoil unravel. There was something deeply disturbing about suddenly seeing everything I’d experienced on my visit to Syria just three months prior begin to crumble.

My tumultuous relationship with Syria had begun while I was still in the US preparing for my nine month trip around the world. A week before I was set to leave, I realized that my passport had not yet been returned to me with my Syrian visa stamped in it. I contacted the Syrian consulate in Los Angeles.

“Sorry Roxana. No, we have not seen your passport.”


With panic settling in, I resorted to my Middle Eastern negotiating skills, refusing to accept ‘no’ for an answer. Seemingly miraculously, my passport was located and mailed back to me just in time for my trip.

Months prior, my parents had staged an intervention with me in hopes of deterring my plans to travel to the Middle East, especially Syria. My father warned me of the unstable government and the various political parties and religious sects vying for power in the country. My mom got on the phone with a Syrian consoler official and asked him if he thought it was safe for her daughter to travel to Syria on her own.

His response, “Everything appears to be fine now Ma’am. But it’s Syria. You never know and there are no guarantees.”

Though I felt somewhat fearful and uneasy, ultimately my desire to experience the Middle East convinced me to ignore the warnings and proceed with my trip. After arriving in Beirut, I hopped on a Mercedes minivan with eight Syrian construction workers, endured a 2 hour nervous wait at the border crossing, and finally arrived in Damascus.


My first few hours in Damascus were some of the most magical moments of my life. As I maneuvered my way through the narrow, old cobblestone streets to find my hostel, I saw small cafes on the sidewalks full of people, vendors on the street corners selling traditional Syrian delicacies. The smell of sweet cinnamon bread, apple tobacco and floral jasmine filled the air. I heard the sounds of the evening azan (the Muslim call to prayer) echoing from the surrounding mosques while Arabic-pop music blared from the opposite side.

All my life I had searched for somewhere that felt like home – a culture whose warmth and openness matched that of my own community. And in many ways, I found it in Syria: from being invited in for countless cups of tea to wandering through the winding souks hearing people call out “Ahlan wah Sahlan,” – “welcome to Syria.”

There was nothing that felt artificial, no hidden agendas — just people interested in other people.

But it didn’t take long for the dark truth behind the magic and charm of Syria to hit me. I went out with some other travelers who I had met in Beirut and their Syrian friends. We were sitting in an outdoor café sipping our tea when I naively inquired about the political climate in Syria.

A look of distress appeared on their faces. My friends swiftly changed the subject.

After I left the café with my Bulgarian friend who was living in Damascus, I asked her about the reaction. She warned me to never talk about politics in public again, or even in private for that matter. She slyly pointed out various people surrounding us who she said were likely part of the Assad regime’s secret service: the man sitting alone at an outdoor restaurant, the waiters and store clerks, even taxi cab drivers. Her advice: don’t trust anyone – the consequences are too serious.


As my days in Syria went on, the level of government control and scrutiny became more and more obvious. To obtain a SIM card for my cell phone, I had to give fingerprints and provide endless amounts of personal information. To travel from one city to another, I had to register with a government official who recorded my passport number and itinerary. To check in to a hotel room or hostel, I had to provide my visa details so a log could be submitted to the government. To check my email I had to use a proxy address to get around a government ban of western websites.

As an American, it was the first time in my life I had experienced that degree of censorship. I felt trapped, scared, and helpless.

Despite the warnings, I boldly decided to use the Couchsurfing network, an online global community that connects travelers with locals, to stay with a family in the northern city of Aleppo. Couchsurfing, both the site and the activity, is banned by the government because it interferes with officials’ ability to monitor the whereabouts of tourists in the country through hotel registries.

I was fortunate enough to be hosted by an Armenian family with two young college-aged girls. As I grew close with the girls over the course of two weeks staying with them, they began to open up to me. After the Armenian genocide, their family had dispersed throughout the Middle East and sought refuge in various Arab countries. Their parents had both escaped Beirut during the Lebanese civil war in order to provide their daughters a better life, and moved to an Armenian immigrant enclave community in the outskirts of Aleppo.

The family had already been approached by government agents with a warning that hosting foreigners could result in arrest and imprisonment. The girls resisted, arguing that the activity was harmless and that they refused to be cut off from the rest of the world. When they told me the story I asked one of the girls why they would take such a huge risk.

“You have the opportunity to travel the world and see and experience things,” she told me. “I don’t have that same opportunity but I still have the desire. Through others’ travels at least I can see the world and hear stories even if I have to do it from my own couch.”

I thought about how brave and courageous she was to defy the rules.

When I shared this with her she explained, “We really have no other choice. We have to find small ways to expand our world given all the restrictions in our life. Otherwise, they win and we are left with nothing.”

Following her queue, I suppressed my hesitations about the government restriction and signed up for a trip to the ancient desert ruins of Palmyra organized through couchsurfing.

The night before our departure, I was pulled aside by a middle-aged Syrian man who owned much of the Aleppo market and was well connected to the interworkings of the country.

“Whatever you do, do not go on this trip,” he told me. “I got a tip that the trip is infiltrated by secret service and likely people will be arrested for the illegal activity. You don’t want to be caught in that mess.”


The warning was frightening enough, but it was confused even more by my Iranian and Jewish ancestry. I wasn’t sure what political complications those identities held in Syria. Feeling vulnerable and unsure who to trust, I cancelled my trip the night before I was set to leave.

The magical aspects of the country had been clouded by my angst and paranoia. Was I being watched? My instincts told me to leave immediately. Within a day, I bought a plane ticket and after some serious questioning by officials in the Aleppo airport, I breathed a sigh of relief as I left Syrian soil safe and sound.

Three months later, sitting in my hotel room in Zanzibar, I saw all that was bubbling under the surface during my visit come to a head. I realized my intuitions were right. The efforts of Assad’s minority Alawite sect to squash any sign of opposition turned from surveillance and intimidation to detentions and massacres.

Each reported death at the hands of the Assad government (which currently estimates put at 14,100) felt personal to me. I tried to distance myself from the news of Syria but my connection to the country and its people would not allow me to ignore it. So I listened, waited, and hoped for Assad to give in.

It’s now been 15 months since the protests and violent backlash began, but there is still no end in sight. Through the months I’ve wondered about the family I stayed with in Aleppo. Are they safe? Has the unrest changed their lives?

But I worried about reaching out to them, afraid that in my longing to make sure they were okay I might inadvertently jeopardize their safety.

Finally, while writing this piece, I decided to reach out to them seeking their permission to publish their story.

I received this chilling message in return:

“I feel like I am in a cage. Through couchsurfing, I worked so hard to break the chains and bring people into my home but now I can’t even safely sit on the rooftop of my own house to watch the city. I can’t look outside anymore. It hurts too much to watch Aleppo slowly disappear just as the other cities in Syria have. With each explosion I hear, I thank god that bloodshed has not touched my family yet the way it has for so many other people. I have already lost 3 friends and another one of my friends has disappeared. His parents are anticipating a call any day informing them that their son has been killed. I have lost my job as a teacher as people no longer send their children to school out of fear. Fear that at the end of the day, they will not come home. This is what our life is like now in Syria.”


Roxana Norouzi has worked with immigrant and refugee populations in the Seattle area for the past 10 years. Currently, she provides strategic guidance around education policy and implementation for OneAmerica, Washington State’s largest immigrant right’s organization. In 2010, Roxana was awarded the University of Washington’s Bonderman Fellowship which allowed her to travel to the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, East Africa, West Africa and South America.

Don’t Knock the Blobs

May 23, 21012 re May 23, 2011                            Dakar, Senegal

Today, I spoke to my dear friend, Jana Shih, who recently returned from 2 years of living and working abroad in Senegal. As we began to commiserate about the readjustments to life back home we couldn’t help but reminisce about where we were exactly a year ago at this time. A trip of epic proportions, Jana and I spent 1 month together traveling up and down the coast of West Africa (from Senegal through the Gambia and down to Guinea Bissau and back) and having a set of adventures that only the combination of  2 social work students of Iranian and Chinese descent could have in West Africa.


A recount of a few of our adventures:

  • Taking a 24-hour plane ride, with stops in 6 different countries, just to cross the African continent from east to west (that’s Africa for you). During one leg of this trip, a passenger began hallucinating and crying to Jesus, stripped off all her clothes and in the chaos of it all,my blanket was used by horrified men to cover her revealed body parts. Bizarro.


  • Getting kidnapped by a taxi driver when Jana decided to jump out of the car because the driver refused to honor thenegotiated of our trip. When he sped off with my feet dangling out of the taxi, Jana had to run down the street to rescue me with a mob of Senegalese men behind her that she rounded up in 2.2 seconds. French swear words such as “el es fu” are forever etched in my brain as a result.


  • Encountering an African man on stilts at at he very elite Radisson Blu pink party in Dakar. Enough said.


  • Getting our visa stamps for the Gambia (a tiny country located smack dab in the middle of Senegal) at a beauty parlor on the border.


  • Sustaining ourselves on a diet of peanuts and West African beer.


  • Posing as two rich housewives on the prowl for prime real estate on the Senegalese coastline. We even went as far as to get housing specs in French because, “our husbands speak French.”

  • Being asked by a Senegalese man in a remote area of southern Senegal if Beverly Hills 90210 is really the way American women are.


  • Learning that in Wolof (one of the regional dialects of Senegal) any country outside of Africa is simply called Tubabadu  (two-bob-a-due). That is, other than the middle east which is referred to as Arabadu.


  • Getting stuck in the middle of the Gambia after our set plas (old Russian station wagon serving as public transport) driver abandoned us at the border in 90 degree heat with cows, goats, chickens hundreds of people and military personnel. We quickly utilized our mastered hustling skills and paid a tiny boat owner to row us from one side of the river to the other.


  •  Buying a mosquito net that trapped mosquitoes inside of the net instead of keeping them out. We are still perplexed about this one.



  • Turning a public ferry ride back from the archipelagos of Guinea Bissau into a booze cruise with the Guinea Bissaun contingency of theater of the oppressed. Karaoke to Rihanna among other pop songs were performed.


  • And finally more laughs then I have ever had in my life, the sun, beach and ….BLOBBING!!!!  I’ll leave it to Jana to explain the art….


Learning from the Master: The Art of Blobbing

by: Jana Shih                 June 10, 2012

Roxana has many talents but perhaps one of her most notorious is her ability to lie down anywhere and stay there for hours on end as long as the sun is above her.  No matter where she is -on a beach, in a backyard, (on a crowded passenger boat where she is blocking the path of everyone with her bed made out of life jackets)- she can always find a way to plop herself down horizontally and not move.  Roxana doesn’t just enjoy lying in the sun, she is addicted to it and besides dancing to 80’s music, it may just be her favorite thing to do. Ever. Put Roxana with in a few miles radius of a beach and you better get out of her way.  Our friend, Todd, who has been on quite a few vacations with her (and quite a few beach destinations)  has a name for “vacation mode” Roxana –  “the Blob.”

Don’t get me wrong, “Travel mode” Roxana has done and seen amazing things on her trip around the world. I could not imagine anyone making more out of her trip than she. She has truly appreciated and lived every single moment of it and has had more “authentic cultural experiences” than the model Peace Corps Volunteer.  However, that’s not to say that if you were to give her a choice between a great hike up a mountain or a beach, she wouldn’t always pick the latter- and West Africa’s got a lot of the latter.

Rox came to Senegal with her best vacation hat on, and I, having lived here for 8 months was waiting with open arms, excited for the opportunity to travel without “seeing or doing things.”  Although we ended up having a few, we weren’t looking for that “real African village” experience [Rox had spent the past 3 months doing that and that sounds like work to] and lucky for us, the beach happens to be the main attraction along the coast of West Africa.

Having never been on vacation with Roxy and aware of my dangerous coastal location, I was quite intimidated by the reputation that preceded her.  What was “the blob” like? Does it move? Does it talk? Will I be able to keep up with its infamous sun tanning marathons? Has the blob mutated as it perfected its skill of lying on beaches around the world? Once a point of high self-confidence, my ability to lie in one spot and do nothing seemed pale in comparison to the description of the blob our friends gave.  Maybe I should have gotten a base tan before the blob’s arrival. Even though I’ve never gotten a sunburn in my life, I acquired a fear of sitting in the sun and got into the habit of searching for shade where ever we sat.

But here is what my dear friend, Roxana has taught me:  I am a blob! I can blob with the best of them! My natural blobbing abilities are only slightly topped by the master herself and I catch on quick.   Roxana and I blobbed from the north of Senegal to the south of Senegal and all the way down to the beautiful archipelagos dos bijagos of Guinea Bissau (and then we came back to Dakar and blobbed some more!) We blobbed on beautiful deserted beaches, hotel pools, and even (while pretending to be rich housewives looking for a beach house) at a gated vacation home community.

In Roxana’s journey around the world to find herself, she helped me to find  a little part of myself too.  I found that I can lie next to a hotel pool (we never actually stayed at the hotels) from breakfast until dinner, deflecting questions from the staff like, “have you moved in the past 8 hours?” and “aren’t you going to leave?” and repeat it all again the next day. Each day, we couldn’t wait to get to our next blobbing destination. Would it be a beach (probably)? A pool (maybe)? A pool overlooking the beach (who can turn down that combination)?  There is nothing more exhilarating and satisfying than finding a good hotel poolside with an ocean view and then finding out that they also have great food.

Our friend, Anna, asked me, “what are the side effects of blobbing?”

It makes work unbearable, your muscles atrophy, and it’s as addictive as heroin.

I wouldn’t say that culture-filled-doing-and-seeing-things-vacations are overrated, but just don’t knock the blobs. ok?

If you liked this post, read more about Jana’s time and experience working in Senegal

Beyond the matzo: Finding a global meaning in Passover

February 29, 2012                    Seattle, WA

This is a piece that was written by me and published on the Seattle Globalist Blog. Please click here to follow more stories and see the original post.


When I was growing up, Passover was the holiday where I sat around a table with my family reading the story of our distant ancestors, eating strange food combinations like raw horseradish, herbs dipped in vinegar, and chanting prayers that always seemed too long. It was the week I reluctantly had to explain to all my friends why I was forgoing pizza in the cafeteria and trading Easter treats for flat tasteless matzo.

Like many first generation American kids with immigrant parents, I resented being different and dreaded sticking out among my peers. But my parents insisted that we keep the tradition and commemorate our ancestors’ experience as slaves in the land of Egypt.

Echoing the sentiments of the holiday, Passover was bittersweet for my family; a time to come together but also a time that reminded us that we were a long way from our home, family, and community.

Unlike the rest of our relatives who resettled in Los Angeles after the Iranian revolution, my family was one of the only Persian Jewish families in Seattle. Our Iranian culture, and different traditions and language set us apart from the mostly Ashkenazi Jewish community in Seattle, and for years we tried to recreate the sense of togetherness my parents had felt in Iran, without much success. As a result, growing up I was often confused about how I related to Judaism and at times felt compelled to reject it in the same way I felt the community had rejected me.

Last year was the first time I spent Passover away from home. I was in Arusha, Tanzania with my sister, who was volunteering there. My parents weren’t around to force us to observe the holiday like they always had, but our homesickness propelled us to do the unlikely: host a Seder and celebrate Passover by choice.

We walked to the local market and bought leeks to take the place of the green onions that Middle Eastern Jews use in the Seder to playfully whip each other while singing Dayenu, “It would have been sufficient.” It’s an odd tradition that simulates the beating Jews suffered during enslavement and represents the importance of being thankful for your lot in life.

We made Charoset, the mixture eaten to symbolize the mortar we used to build structures as slaves, with peanut butter, raisins, and cheap African wine.

We searched every market high and low for matzo before finally concluding that god would understand if we used flat crackers as a substitute.

That night, after a surprise power outage, we sat around a tiny table in my sister’s volunteer house with several of her Tanzanian friends reading a piece of the Haggadah, the story of Jewish slavery, by candlelight. As our friend named Vivian read her portion she stopped and said, “I feel as if I am reading the story of my own people.” She pointed out that parallels to the story of slavery, oppression and injustice can be found across the history of her continent.

Before serving the Persian dinner we had prepared for our guests, my sister and I lifted the Seder plate and chanted the traditional prayer in the ancient tune that was passed down from our grandfather, to our mother, and then onto us. As we sang I glanced over at my sister and we both chuckled at our inability to remember all the words while simultaneously, tears welled in our eyes. For the first time, we felt some ownership over this holiday. Our observation of Passover was not out of obligation but instead a feeling of connection to our family and heritage, even from thousands of miles away from home.

Traveling around the world in the months before arriving in Tanzania as part of a Bonderman Fellowship I was surprised to come across Jewish communities that challenged what I’d always assumed to be mainstream Judaism. In the Mumbai airport, I spoke with an Indian man who told me about his Indian Jewish community in Mumbai and shared how they infuse their Indian culture and traditions with their Jewish practices.

I also spent several days with a Felasha (community of Ethiopian Jews) in Gondar, Ethiopia. At a religious service held under a thatched roof in an impoverished village, I observed how Amhara traditions were fully integrated into their religious practices. They explained how they will substitute injera, an Ethiopian bread staple, for home-made matzo during the Passover days. I realized the ways my heritage inherently connects me to every other Jewish community around the world.

I’m back home in Seattle for Passover this year, and I’ve been thinking about Vivian’s observation about the similarity between the Jewish and African experience. So I’ve decided to let go of the idea that a holiday is only significant when it’s shared with those who are of the same faith and instead use it as an opportunity to connect us to each other’s experiences.

This year, my family’s Seder table will include our Iranian Muslim family friends who have embraced the holiday and seen it as an opportunity to learn more about our cultural ties as Jews; African American friends who strongly relate to the history of slavery and oppression; Filipinos who share our story of migration and struggle, and progressive Jewish friends who are excited about observing the holiday in a new way.

We have adopted a social justice Haggadah that reminds us not only of the plight of the Jewish people, but of all those who, in the past and present, experience injustice.

As I  continue to find ways to make Passover my own, I am left with the bittersweet feeling that it represented for me as a child. Remembering the hardships of my ancestors and family and through that, finding new meanings in community and togetherness.

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