Roya Hakakian, Author Of ‘A Beginner’s Guide To America’ : NPR

Poet Rogha Hakakian was a teenager when she came to the United States from Iran. In the Beginner’s Guide to America, it describes what it is like to take off from a long plane flight, go through the bright light passages and align with most of your belongings in your hands, seeing the American flag pins on the lapels. TSA officers – all with names like Sanchez, McWilliams and Cho and “God, all Americans”.

She says the wealth of names was the most impressive thing she has ever seen in her life. “I came from a country where I had never seen in my immediate life and surrounded any other people in the neighborhood, who were mostly of the same race and nationality,” he recalls. “This human salad made a lot of sense to me and continues to be.”

Interview snapshots

In what he hopes that people born in America will learn through the eyes of an immigrant

I thought of writing this book in 2016, when anti-immigrant rhetoric reached a new level. And at the same time there was this rise of anti-democratic sentiments. And I thought, what could I do if I could show in some way in America that most Americans born on earth cannot see, the little signs of democracy that may be invisible to those who have never lived anywhere else.

We return something we bought in the store – you know, a sweater – after three weeks and we believe that anywhere in the world you can just show up with your receipt and return something you bought. No you can not. We as individuals have rights. Another example is, you know, in most parts of the world, there are traffic laws, but no one respects them, because you just do not believe in the laws of a non-democratic country. And these are all small gifts of this gigantic democracy, which manifests itself in the way we live our daily lives.

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On the “ABC of American Peculiarities”, such as prices ending at 99 cents

It was one of the first things I asked when I first came to the States. Do you know why it is not three dollars? Why should it be $ 2.99? And then I got a lecture on the fact that traders think that if they do it for $ 2.99, you think it’s two dollars. And so my first reaction was really silly. But then, you know, I’m also talking about the endless line of cereal in the supermarket aisle. And I think every immigrant’s first reaction is, do you really need all that? Do you really need so many brands of cereal? And that’s definitely a way of looking at it. But at the end of the day, I think the important journey is to think of choice as the cornerstone of what makes this country or this democracy.

About the legacy of slavery and what immigrants owe

When you look at why America is, compared to other Western nations, a much better destination for immigrants, I can only believe that it is largely the contribution of the African-American struggle for equal rights that we as foreigners have benefited from. have done to create a fairer and more equal society.

On recent hate crimes against immigrants, especially Asian Americans

It is probably one of the most important aspects of the American immigration experience that we all have, regardless of our background, at one point or another throughout history, we have been discriminated against in this country. And what we can hope for best is to do better. And we also know from our history that within a generation or two, we make this country a home for newcomers.

About her views on assimilation

There are nuances in the fact that I think that assimilation ultimately creates a sense of national solidarity, right? We all realize that it is wonderful to assume this American identity and to feel that there is something greater than what we were individually. There is something bigger than these little parts we bring together. But part of the reason this possibility is happening in America is because America also allows us to be, in my case, Jewish, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and so on. So this is the timeless situation where we want to be one. We must want to celebrate a unique American. But this is possible because America is not fighting our individualities. America is not fighting for our heritage. America does not demand that we give up who we are.

This story was created for radio by Danny Hensel, edited by D. Parvaz and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.

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