It’s a small coffee shop, a Shingle-style shack with blue trim, listed by Yelp as one of Laguna Beach’s best. Cookies and biscotti lie in a basket in front of the order window. The barista, an upbeat blonde woman in her late fifties, early sixties, comes over to me. As I’m trying to choose what flavor to put in my coffee, we start talking. She finds out I’m from Phoenix and asks what brought me to Laguna.
“My friend passed away two weeks ago. I’m here to clear my head,” I tell her. Hal, a pastor, was one of the first friends I’d made after moving to Phoenix a year and a half ago with my fiancé. He had helped us through some tough times.
She’s curious about where my accent is from. I tell her I was born in Iran. “But I have lived here longer than I have lived there,” I quickly add.
It’s a cool, sunny November morning. As she’s making my coffee, the woman spots the book I’m carrying in my hand, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, by Hooman Majd. She asks me what it’s about. I tell her it was written by an Iranian immigrant who had left Iran when he was eight months old. When he turned fifty, he decided to go looking for his grandmother’s house halfway around the world, hoping to find his roots. He found the area, the familiar scents, the leftover mud walls. But he couldn’t find the actual house.
His story is not much different from mine, I say. Several years ago, I visited the neighborhood where my family used to live in Tehran. For the first time in more than two decades, I walked our old block, looking for the home I had grown up in. But it wasn’t there anymore.
Before they manage to reach Spain or Italy or Greece, people fleeing poverty and war in Sub-Saharan Africa head to port cities like Tangier. There, they face the risk of beatings and repression at the hands of authorities—or dying on the crossing to Europe.
Best of In The Fray 2015.
As they head into what should be their golden years, many older immigrants still work low-wage jobs and remain undocumented. Unable to save up or receive benefits for the elderly, they can do little but hope they stay healthy and employable. Part two of a two-part series.
The civil war in Syria forced her to leave her home for another in Armenia, her ancestral homeland. Three years later, the war rages on, and the situation in the refugee camps in Lebanon and elsewhere remains grim.
In recent months, hundreds of migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean and slip into Europe. Even Greece, a country locked in a worsening financial crisis, is now drawing record numbers of desperate travelers from Africa and elsewhere. Once their journey is over, what happens next?
A note inscribed in the margin of an ancient book connected me, across an ocean and a century, to a fateful decision.
When I was growing up in suburban Maryland, every fall would bring a familiar sound. Thud, thud, thud!—chestnuts falling in their hardy armor. My mom and I would gather them up and roast them. I loved peeling away the smooth veneer and eating the sweet, still-warm fruit nestled inside, like nature’s Ferrero Rocher.
I was not, however, so fond of the way in which we procured our chestnuts.
My mom hunted for them on suburban lawns. This was during the nineties—before foraging was a way of life, before it entered the lexicon of popular (now mainstream) “foodie” movements, before bearded chefs in Brooklyn were cooking local and seasonal. My mom and I wandered into people’s yards, into patches of wooded private land, and picked up chestnuts by the plastic shopping bagful.
“Mom, this is probably illegal,” I would tell her, hoping my protests would get me out of the chore. What if someone I knew from school saw us? Would they think we were poor, that we couldn't afford food from a store?
The cool kids had Lunchables and Mondos. I had a neon cooler ripe with the aroma of kimchi.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, Christos Gabriel and Yannis Lubovicki left the faltering Eastern Bloc and came to Greece in pursuit of a happier life. But as the energy and promise of Greece’s once-fiery economy has dwindled away, immigrants like them have experienced homelessness and hostility—as well as a peculiar yearning for the old communist ways.
Like many children of immigrant parents, I was told story upon story that began, “When I came to this country…” But certain details of my father’s journey weren’t shared until I was twenty-six. Even after all these years, the story of how he emigrated from Mexico isn’t one my father likes to tell. He came from a generation where one’s citizenship status was something not to be discussed. I only learned of the specifics because I poked and prodded until he finally gave in, saying, “Tell my story when I’m dead.”
On July 21, nine Mexican nationals openly defied US immigration policy, and more than ten thousand people watched the event unfold through a live, global webcast. I held my breath as activists from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) — who are now known as the “Dream 9” — walked arm-in-arm through the streets of Nogales, Mexico. I felt the squeeze of anxiety in my chest as they neared the US-Mexico border. And I sent a silent wish into the universe that the gamble these young people are bravely taking won’t be in vain.