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Afghans Who Fled Conflict Face Cultural Divide in U.S.

By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Aman Feda, an Afghan-born mortgage broker, cringed at his 13-year-old niece's choice of music, the hip-hop blaring from the car radio, the lyrics grating on his nerves as they drove home after shopping at Tysons Corner.

"Why not listen to some Afghan music?" Feda asked casually.

"What music?" he remembers her saying with a shrug of her shoulders. "There's nothing."

The exchange sparked Feda's first thought of creating a magazine that showcases Afghan musicians, poets and celebrities in a way that enlightens his niece's generation about Afghan culture and engages community elders eager to reconnect with their Afghan roots.

Feda and his wife, Samira, who live in Springfield, followed through on the idea three years later. They launched a magazine three months ago and found themselves negotiating what one Afghan native describes as the "cultural schizophrenia" that has plagued a community that began settling in large numbers in this country more than two decades ago, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan .

As Aman Feda, 32, tells it, many of them were well-educated professionals who scraped by as taxi drivers and beauticians when they arrived. They've raised doctors, engineers and now publishers. But calming the political tensions they brought with them, reconciling Muslim tradition with American lifestyles, and easing the resulting strain between generations proved tougher than the financial challenges they faced.

Even the Fedas, who arrived as youngsters, grappled with the hyphen in Afghan-American. She was not allowed to date. So he had to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. A one-year engagement led to a wedding and then the magazine.

Samira, 23, the editor in chief, and Aman, the publisher, decided on the name Zéba -- the Dari word for beautiful. But they fretted about putting a woman on this month's cover, Miss England 2005, the Afghan knockout (and Muslim) who caused a stir when she took part in the swimsuit competition.

"We're trying to be respectful of everyone, but we're trying to push the buttons just a little bit on the social issues," Aman Feda said. "And there are a lot of social issues the Afghans here don't agree on."

In the Washington region, home to one of the country's largest Afghan populations, "everyone" includes roughly 14,000 people who said they are of Afghan ancestry, most of them born in Afghanistan, according to a 2005 U.S. Census survey released this month. Many of them live in Northern Virginia. Some congregate at the Mustafa Center Mosque in Annandale. They have two well-established poetry reading circles and a sports federation in Fairfax that draws throngs of Afghans from around the nation to its annual Fourth of July soccer championship.

Afghans came in waves, bringing competing political ideologies, said Rameen Moshref Javid, 37, who splits time between Alexandria and New York, where he runs a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural and intellectual discourse among young Afghan professionals.

When the Soviets invaded in 1979, Afghanistan's ruling elite escaped immediately if they could. Intellectuals who refused to embrace the new party dogma followed in the 1980s. And when the communist regime collapsed in 1992, any Afghans associated with it fled and civil war broke out. Four years later, after the Taliban seized Kabul, the capital, still more left. Since 1999, about 9,100 Afghan refugees have arrived in this country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.


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