What Past Participants Have Said
We asked our past participants what they learned at AAC, what they hoped to implement in their time after the conference.
"There wasn't anything specific but rather a conglomerate of things I learned at the last AAC event that has shaped me for the better. This being less judgmental/offensive in my thoughts and learning to love everyone regardless of their differences. It definitely made my heart softer."
- Akmal Qazi, Chicago, IL
"I have worked for several companies throughout my career and made plenty of companies millions of dollars. After attending AAC 2015 I realized how many successful entrepreneurs took the risk of starting their own business. I forgot the gentleman's name but he said 'The best way to start a business is to replicate someone you work for.' He worked for a company in which he made them high profit percentages and he used his own experience and created a similar company but with his ideas. This is exactly what I did. I recently started two ventures that I have extensive experience as this is what I have been doing the last 10 years in my career. I am currently in the beginning stage but I know my profit margins will be great within the next 3 years. I feel if I didn't go to AAC I wouldn't have had the courage as I always look at the risk factors of starting something new."
- Maria Kharot, Chicago, IL
"I always knew we had Afghan-Americans were very successful in their respective professions but didn't realize there were so many, and even more importantly they are within reach living and working in my own region. As a student, I was able to discuss best practices for studying, test preparation, and college transfer suggestions. Since the last AAC, I have now transferred from community college to a university. Professionally, I strongly believe that networking should be emphasized which AAC Connect will accomplish digitally, but the face-to-face in respective panels help create dialogue for those who may be shy. A common goal among AACPs is we wish to create a stronger Afghan-American community similar to those of Iranians, and Jews and the first step in that is uplifting our fellow Afghans professionally."
- Jahed Aziz, Irvine, CA
"I really learned pride in my culture after seeing the resilience, strength, and inspiring work my fellow Afghans were doing. I got a glimpse of what could be when connections are made, and we work towards the common goal of thriving in this country and uplifting the entire community. I learned there were so many like me—lost, confused, and searching for something to belong to. And not to be incredibly corny, but we found it in those 3 days. I learned it’s okay not to belong completely either to American culture or to Afghan culture, the identities in between are also valid and shared by many."
- Farah Zia, Germantown, MD
"Planning on going to law school, I attended the Law/Public Policy panel at the 2015 AAC. I met, talked to, and established contact with one of the panelists who worked in public policy and actually did the same double major as myself, which is rare. Since then we have become friends and she has even helped me in looking for internships and is a reference I put now for my resume. Along the same lines, a good friend I made who is now a lawyer has become a mentor to me and even advised me on what I had to legally for a clothing company I recently founded
- Mustafa Alemi, San Diego, CA
"I have become much more optimistic, in general, about the future of the Afghan community and have been inspired in many ways by the people I met. I really look up to some of the older guys, who have become my role models within the community. Since the conference, I have founded Afghan Students Union at UCI, which now has around 30-35 members. We have frequent meetings and have held charity events for Islamic Relief and are planning some for Zam Zam Water. I have also made an effort to visit as many AAC alumni as I can when traveling for work/conferences. Although this has been largely social, I think it is very important for us to maintain these connections and friendships to unite our community."
- Amir Ben Vig, Irvine, CA
"I learned that Afghan-Americans ARE capable of coming together in a safe, productive way to uplift each other's voices and celebrate our differences. The Afghan-American community is not just what I see on GLWiz, but also a vibrant collection of businesspeople, artisans, academics, goofs, tech wunderkids, writers, performers, scientists, doctors, leaders and even polemics. I learned that we are more diverse than I ever gave our community credit for, and that we CAN celebrate our people's vast diversity. Our differences, for the first time, felt like a strength rather than an obstacle.
I want to take this realization and turn it into a truth that is celebrated within the diaspora, and eventually in our parent's homeland. Whether it be through the pen, or by my voice, I want to shine a light on how the different facets of the Afghan identity can contribute to a larger, more empowered whole.
That is my mission with The Samovar Network, a monthly discussion panel I help to organize with other 2015 conference attendees. We have conducted over a half dozen panels, each one focusing on a unique aspect of the Afghan-American identity and experience that is relevant to the community. We not only explore the various identities within our diaspora, but also give actionable steps to rectify the things that are wrong, and to celebrate the things that are so so right."
- Reza Hessabi, Upland, CA
"AAC 2015 opened doors to connect with the professional members of the community. It provided us the opportunity to give back; currently I am in the process of correcting and checking math with Pashto/Dari translation for students in Afghanistan. AAC provided this opportunity for me and for the students who will benefit and enhance their skills in math, etc."
"AAC 2015 was an eye opening experience for me on several counts. I was able to see a side of the Afghan community that I was relatively unaware of. Meeting and networking with everyone instilled me with a newfound sense of hope for our future and the opportunity to grow from our shared knowledge. On a more personal level, the mental health panel by Dr. Alemi and Dr. Aziz was probably one of the most fruitful experiences of the event. Their discussions on trauma and its effects on refugees like our parent’s generation shed much light on the behaviors of my parents and other close family members. I’ve learned to be more aware of their actions and to try and understand the underlying causes for them. It helps me decide how to best interact with them and how to best help them though any issues which may arise. I also learned a great deal from the gender dynamics roundtable as well as the male gender caucus. There was a great reading group which started after AAC on the subject of patriarchy and its relation to power and I’ll have to admit it really showed me how much we males had to learn about this political-social system that we have been fed and how much it has affected our mothers and sisters and cousins. I believe spreading this knowledge with our friends and family and trying to change our own actions are the first steps for change."
"I learned the importance of UNITY and how strong our community is. Being the social event planner/member of the ASA at UCSD, I've reached out to Afghans at my school to unite the Afghans here on campus who are "afraid" of being associated with other Afghans. I also shared the idea of having an Afghan College day at UCSD, similar to the one at UCLA, where we cater to high school students who are interested in going to UC and need help with applying or what they want to study.
AAC has taught me a lot about myself and my identity, something that I have struggled with since I was little. Being in a room with over 300 Afghans who are just like me, has never made me more proud of being a daughter of an Afghan refugee before. At the AAC 2015, I've never met more empowering, diligent, passionate, and educated Afghans who come together to help other Afghans. To this day, I share this experience with many of my friends and family who are struggling with their identity and ashamed of being Afghan."
"As corny as it sounds, attending AAC 2015 was like finding my way home. I never thought I would find a group of such like-minded individuals in our diaspora. Following the conference I found myself wanting to be involved in as many Afghan related activities as possible whether I was helping collect clothes for Afghan refugees or attending events like the Afghan Health picnic, Afghan wellness club, TSN discussions, and AAC reunions. The conference inspired me to want to surround myself with Afghans and try to involve myself in organizations that are helping our diaspora.
AAC not only introduced me to a group of individuals who inspired me it also made me take a hard look at some of the issues plaguing our diaspora. The topics being discussed were extremely relevant. The mental health discussion dove into the unique issues that exist within our community. When I returned home I was able to have a meaningful discussion with a family friend about their issues, which lead them to seek the help they needed. That alone in my eyes was worth me attending AAC 2015. The female caucus was an experience that I cannot describe. We discussed the unique issues that face women in our diaspora and I realized that I was oblivious to on goings or I was feeding into some issues. After the conference I made sure to vocalize what I learned from that session and more importantly not to fall into the trap of perpetuating the problem."
"I now have so many brothers and sisters across the US. We cried together, laughed together, and made life-long friendships."
"It was the first Afghan event I have ever been to that didn't feel like an Afghan event lol. It was so amazing seeing my NY, CT, VA, Chicago, So Cal, and Bay Area families come together in one place and meet each other and even more inspiring expanding that family. Does anyone else feel like they found home?"
"I truly do believe we made history. I have never felt more proud to be an Afghan-American!"
"I left my heart in San Francisco.. Never felt so proud of the accomplishments of others."
"[This] weekend...was the culmination of 27 years of soul and identity seeking. I shared and I learned and I listened to my fellow Afghans. I laughed and yes, I cried. The Afghan-American Conference made me realize that we share it all: the pain, the anguish, the constant struggle of hyphenation. More than that, we share the same dreams and goals. We're not gonna confine ourselves to your stereotypes. The future is now. There's much work ahead. But we're ready. Let's go."
"Can't remember the last time I was this inspired, hopeful, and proud."
"Thank you to all for the much needed reminder that we are also a beautiful people. We have a ways to go, this is just the beginning."
"This Afghan-American Conference seemed palpably different to me. I've spent the past few days trying to figure out why. I think it's partly because past events were focused on helping Afghanistan instead of focusing on helping our community here. This is the first time anyone has said: We have to matter here, to matter there, and this changes the energy of an event entirely. Mostly though, I think it's because the focus of leadership was on us, the attendees."
"You have brought back life to an entire generation and that is no easy task."
"I have never in my life spent 3 consecutive days with so many Afghans; it was so inspiring and comforting. I have never felt so safe among a group of Afghans that I feel I can truly trust...this is kinda sorta groundbreaking for us. We have a long way to go and I couldn't imagine doing it with a better group of people."
"Never thought in my lifetime I'd be in a room with so many Afghan men willing to take such a critical look into our role and impact as men. No joke. We may not have agreed on everything said during that discussion, but damn we kept it very real, and I think we can all agree that we came out having learned so much by taking part."
"Can't wait to see what we as a community are able to accomplish. If we can get a group of (basically) strangers to dance their hearts out in a small space AFTER entertainment night was technically over, there is nothing we can't do."
"Not Afghan enough and not American enough—never in my 28 years until I attended this conference."
"I am now confident that the next generation will be a force to reckon with in this country and that we will collectively pursue a better future for Afghanistan."
"Before attending this event, I felt an impending sense of doom at the thought of being in the vicinity of 300 Afghans for three days straight. I not only survived the AAC but I gained so much perspective that my entire paradigm of thoughts on the Afghan-American Diaspora has changed forever. As I looked around the room during dinner on Saturday night, I could not help but tear up over how good it felt to finally belong to a demographic. I would not be exaggerating if I said that this was one of the best weekends of my life."
"I literally cannot stop talking about this conference. I am so humbled and honored to be part of this community, Alhamdulillah."
"Afghans...saying nothing but positive good words right after a gathering? That, in itself says a lot. Given our Afghan instincts of striving towards excellence, our happiness and satisfaction with this weekend says so much."
"Hang your name tag somewhere visible in your homes and whenever you see it, hold yourself and all of us accountable in thinking about what strides we have made since the conference. To the men, I've never met a group of afghan guys that had the humility, introspection and vision as you all. To the women, you reminded us that you all are our saving grace and greatest asset. You personify all the things I want my sisters, cousins, and iA daughters to grow up to be. Not sure where we would be without you so thank you, thank you for everything."
"AAC has been the most uplifting and inspiring experiences I've ever had being involved in the Afghan-American community."