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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Happy Father's Day: Honoring Immigrant Dads

Whether it was their love of learning that helped to shape our own, their endless work that allowed us to pursue our dreams, or the values that they passed down—immigrant dads are a special kind of dad who deserve their own special recognition. So, to help us celebrate Father’s Day, 15 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows, who are all immigrants or children of immigrants, shared notes and photos with us to honor their own dads. While each Fellow’s story and relationship with their father is unique, there is so much that is recognizable and shared. Happy Father’s Day! 

Chidiebere Akusobi

Born in Nigeria, Chidi and his mother immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. They reunited with his father who had immigrated two years earlier to attend nursing school. Currently, Chidi is a second year MD-PhD student and campus leader at Harvard Medical School. He is involved with the WhiteCoat4BlackLives movement and the Student National Medical Association, where he works to increase the pipeline of underrepresented minority students in medicine. He is a 2016 Fellow.

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“It’s not easy o!” That was one of your favorite adages growing up, one that you would frequently tell me after coming home from your 16 hour shifts. You came to America 26 years ago with the dream of providing a better future for your family, and you sacrificed immensely in order to provide for me and my siblings. You worked 2-3 fulltime jobs, put yourself through nursing school, and obtained a masters degree, all while raising 4 children and supporting your extended family in Nigeria. Daddy, you are the hardest working, most enterprising, and principled man I know. Thank you for everything that you have done and sacrificed for the family. It’s not easy o. Happy Father’s Day!

- Chidiebere Akusobi (2016 Fellow)

Father’s graduation from City College, CUNY in NYC in 1997. Pictured here are my father in his graduation robes and my siblings, from left to right: Kelechi, Uchenna, Ijeoma, and myself.

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Oswaldo Hasbún Avalos

A native of El Salvador who immigrated to the United States in 2001, Oz has been committed to improving the quality of medical care for “limited English proficiency” patients since starting his undergraduate studies at Stanford University. Now a medical student at Columbia University, Oz continues his advocacy work and community service as joint clinic manager for four student-run free clinics, as a founding member of the New York Student-Run Free Clinic board and through his continued work training volunteer medical interpreters. 

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“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness” (Titus 2:7). I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined our crazy life; yet I find constant themes: boundless love, constant guidance, and continued sacrifices by Mamita and you. It is through your example that I have learned the true meaning of patience and trust in God; what love looks like through actions; what perseverance and passion mean; and how to lead. So everyday I step into your shoes, still too big for me, with your tie around my neck as I stretch myself out as much as I can in attempts to one day reach your height.

- Oswaldo Hasbun Avalos (2016 Fellow)

Photo: Father’s Day 1993 and 1996 in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Amal Elbakhar

Amal has had one foot rooted in Arab immigrant culture and the other in the classroom of social justice since her family immigrated to New York City from Morocco when she was nine years old. Overcoming cultural barriers, Amal is a graduate of Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY, and she graduated from Harvard Law School in the spring of 2016. She was the first person in her family to graduate from high school.
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Dear Dad (AKA "Omar Elbakhar"),

At age ten, you sat on a sewing machine helping your father provide for the family. You wanted a brighter educational future for your children - so you swept up your belongings and traveled to NYC for the American dream. Today, you continue to strive for the American dream - every day - waking up at 5am and working till 10pm. Today, I am achieving the American dream because of your courage, brilliance and support!  Dad - you are the stick from which I measure the greatness of a man, and the perfect example of the ideal parent. I am grateful for your love, devotion and wisdom - you are my greatest teacher. I am eternally grateful for the knowledge you have given me and I promise you that I will always fearlessly chase my wildest dreams - I am honored to be your daughter. 

Love, 

Amal Elbakhar (2015 Fellow)

Photo: Harvard Law School Graduation - May 26, 2016, Cambridge, MA

Nairi Hartooni 

Born in Tehran, Iran, Nairi is a member of a minority of Armenians who have lived in Iran for centuries. Her parents, who were the first generation to live outside of their familial village and receive a formal education, noticed that post-revolution Iran would not fairly offer their daughter educational opportunities. Thus, they moved to Glendale, California where Nairi grew up surrounded by immigrants seeking a better life. Now, Nairi is a 2016 Fellow and is pursuing a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology in the Tetrad Program at the University of California, San Francisco.

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After moving to the United States, my father worked several odd jobs to provide for us. Despite being unable to pursue his passion for fine art through his career, he always made sure that my brother and I were exposed to great art, helped us develop our own style, encouraged us to pursue our passion outside of art, and regardless of circumstances, helped us turn our passion into our careers. 

Thank you Papa for your sacrifices, support, and love.  - Nairi Hartooni (2016 Fellow)

My mother took this photo of my father and me on a lazy morning in 1989 in Tehran, Iran. My parents are both artists whose careers were hindered by revolution and war. This candid shot captures my father’s love through my mother’s lens.

 

Akbar Hossain

Akbar was born in Bangladesh and later moved to Saudi Arabia, where his father was a migrant worker. His family immigrated to the United States on September 9, 2001, through the Diversity Visa Lottery. After the passing of his father, Akbar learned the importance of perseverance and community, as members of his hometown, Norristown, Pennsylvania supported and helped raise his family. He graduated from Franklin & Marshall College, and is a 2016 Fellow and a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. 

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I would not be where I am today without the courage and sacrifices of my parents. My father first left his village in Bangladesh to work as a welder in Saudi Arabia during his early twenties. In the years after arriving to the US, he would leave to work at a convenience store at five in the morning and return home from his second job around midnight, always without complaint. He taught me the importance of hard work, perseverance, and taking advantage of every opportunity. I hope that one day, I can grow up to be half the person and inspiration he has been for me. Thank you, dad!

- Akbar Hossain (2016 Fellow)

This photo is of my father, mother and me in the early 1990s in Bangladesh. We immigrated to the United Sates in 2001.

 

 Leen Katrib

Leen was born in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates to Syrian and Lebanese immigrants. Her memory of the architectural, economic, and social inequalities between Sharjah’s concentration of forced migrants and Dubai’s rapid urbanization developed her passion in architecture and urbanism. After numerous threats of deportation to Syria, she relocated with her family to West Virginia when she was 14 years old to pursue permanent legal presence for the first time. She attended the University of Southern California as an undergraduate. She currently works as a project designer in Manhattan. In 2016, she will pursue a Master’s in Architecture at Princeton University as a 2016 Fellow.

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Dear Baba, 

Ten years ago, I was quietly crying in a corner at JFK. We had just left the UAE and I would not be seeing my best friends, aunts, and grandma for years. I resented you for asking me to sacrifice a life I loved to live in an unheated hole-in-the-wall in West Virginia. Everyday, you insisted we were lucky to live here. And everyday for many years I didn't believe you. 

Little did I know how many sacrifices you would be making along the way. You and mama sacrificed your own careers, your dreams, financial security, and seeing your families so that Amal and I can live our wildest dreams.

I never thought that ten years after that day at JFK, I would be living in New York, waking up every single morning feeling so in love with my life. Because of your sacrifices, every single day of my life feels like magic. I am so grateful for you baba!! -Leen Katrib (2016 Fellow) 

Photo: Sharjah, UAE, 1992 

Evgeniya Kim 

Born in what is now North Korea, Evgeniya’s ancestors moved to Russia’s Far East in search of a better life. Falling victim to Stalin’s repression, they were exiled to Central Asia and settled in Uzbekistan, where they faced marginalization. Evgeniya, fourteen at the time, and her family, fled Uzbekistan for the United States in 2002, where they fell victim to a visa scam and were forced to spend eight months in a family shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania before receiving asylum. Evgeniya attended Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY in New York City and graduated in the spring of 2016 from the Yale School of Management.

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My father is the strongest, wisest, hardest-working, and most caring man I know. He has taught me to always plan two steps ahead, envisioning the things I want to achieve and going hard after my goals. His ability to realize his wild, sometimes unthinkable, ambitions in the face of hardships has taught me that truly nothing is impossible. "You can do anything," he's always said "except maybe sing - for that you need talent." I definitely inherited my father's poor ear for music, but thankfully along with that, his perseverance and a can-do attitude for which I am forever grateful. - Evgeniya Kim (2015 Fellow)

This is a picture of my father and me in the Hamptons on November 27, 2015. My family and I rented a beautiful home close to the water where we celebrated Thanksgiving with traditional Uzbek shashlyk (kebabs) and a big American turkey. It was a beautiful, joyful, sunny day and we felt grateful for each other and for every opportunity that we found in this country. 

Minh-Duyen Thi Nguyen

Minh-Duyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam with her family when she was five. Her mother’s tofu business helped the family integrate into a community of working class immigrants in Wichita, Kansas. Her understanding of advocacy took hold while growing up dependent on state welfare and the social services of Catholic Charities. Minh-Duyen gained acceptance to an international baccalaureate program in high school, and was named a Questbridge scholar, Gates Millennium Scholar and Philip Evans Scholar, which allowed her to attend Swarthmore College. As a 2015 Fellow she is pursuing her MD at Stanford University.
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Dad,

I love this photo of Diep's First Communion because it perfectly captures our painfully awkward first years in the US, but it's also a reminder of how we've managed to stay together despite many mishaps. For example, on the plane ride to the US, mom tasked you with holding my hand, but when she looked up I had walked in the opposite direction with a stranger. Dung went off to school by herself, because she was tired of waiting to be enrolled and Diep wandered off to go to church. We may have wandered at times, but you and mom were our anchors as our family embarked on this new American life together. Thank you.

- Minh-Duyen (2015 Fellow)

This photo, of me and family at my sister's First Communion ceremony, was taken a year after we arrived in the US. We immigrated to Wichita, Kansas from Vietnam when I was five-years-old. 

Tiffanie Hsu

Tiffanie, who is an award-winning filmmaker, was born in Wisconsin to a mother who fled from civil war in China at the age of three and a Taiwanese father who overcame profound poverty to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering in the United States. As an MFA candidate at UCLA, she makes films that incorporate her unique outsider perspective and expand the breadth of the American experience represented in film. Tiffanie is a 2015 Fellow.

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Even after his passing, my father continues to inspire me each and every day. He worked his way up from nothing, an adopted son in a penniless family from the south of Taiwan. He was the first in his family to finish high school, attend college, and then earn a doctorate halfway around the globe in a new world. I do not know anybody who pushed himself harder to win at life - and it is his memory and his lessons that drive me day after day. 爸爸節快樂。Happy Father’s Day, Dad. 

- Tiffanie Hsu (2015 Fellow)

 

Photo: My father, Joseph Ching-Hsiang Hsu, and me at Bryce Canyon National Park. Gotta love those shades.

Suhas Rao

Born in Massachusetts, Suhas is the son of Indian immigrants who came to the US in the 1980s. Thanks to his parents, both chemists turned software engineers, Suhas grew up immersed in science and developed a love for the pursuit of knowledge and discovery. He followed his passion to Harvard, where he began to investigate the three dimensional structure of the genome—an interest that would, following his graduation, result in two co-first authored publications in Cell and PNAS and the highest resolution maps of the 3D genome to date. Currently, Suhas is a 2016 Fellow pursuing an MD/PhD at Stanford University School of Medicine. 

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For as long as I can remember, my father has been a major inspiration in my life. He embodies the resilience and ambition typical of so many New Americans, coming from a rural village in South India where he studied by kerosene lamp to eventually attaining multiple graduate degrees in totally different fields. Without the sacrifices he made in coming to the U.S. and traveling so far from the comforts of familiarity, my brother and I could not have dreamed of having the opportunities we have had. I hope to emulate even a fraction of the selflessness and dedication to family that my father has exemplified his whole life. Happy Father's Day, Appa! 

- Suhas Rao (2016 Fellow)

Photo: February 1993, Waltham, MA.

 

Aya Saed

Aya was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Sudanese parents. Her family migrated to the United States in 1999 to escape political and economic turmoil at home. Aya is pursuing a joint JD at Harvard Law School and a Master’s in public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She is a student-attorney for the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, president of the Muslim Law Students Association, and a research assistant to Professor Intisar Rabb. She is a 2016 Fellow.
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Baba,

Thank you for your unconditional love, your persistence, your humble grace. You have traveled thousands of miles searching for opportunities, and a more enriching life. You have given us more wealth in love than anything money can buy, and more education through wisdom than any Ivy League degree could afford. And for that, I will forever be thankful. Your humility guides me everyday. Happy fathers day.  

- Aya Saed (2016 Fellow)

This is a photo of me, my dad and my sisters in our first home in the United States, less than a year after our immigration to the US in 2000. 

 

Andre Shomorony

Andre was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to parents of Jewish-European descent. In 2005, when Andre was fifteen, his family moved to Miami in search of financial stability and better educational and professional opportunities. Now a third-year student in the joint Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Andre is pursuing an MD with an added focus on biomedical research. He is a 2015 Fellow.
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On this Father’s Day, I take the time to look back on my family’s journey as New Americans, and to reflect upon our obstacles and achievements. I dedicate my accomplishments to my wonderful father, who – alongside my mother – made tremendous sacrifices to orchestrate such a big change in our lives. Among dozens of timeless pictures of my father and me, it is a particularly blurry one, taken during a road trip through New England, which currently speaks to me the most: father and son, caught totally off-guard in a historic October blizzard, smiling at the beautiful surroundings, and waiting to see what’s next. Papai, obrigado por tudo.
-Andre Shomorony (2015 Fellow)
 

Photo: Me and my father Gabriel seeking shelter during a blizzard in Connecticut, October 2011.

Sahar Soleimanifard 

Sahar was born and raised in Iran and attended Sharif University, the top engineering school in the country. She moved to the United States at the age of twenty-three and started her graduate education at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Following the completion of her PhD, she started her medical education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine as a 2015 Fellow. She plans on developing noninvasive tools for early disease diagnosis, which can have a dramatic medical, personal, and economic impact on the lives of many patients. 

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Happy Father’s Day to my Baba Ahmad! You are the most strong-willed, motivated, and most importantly kind person I know. You have always inspired me to aim higher, work harder, take more risks, and strive to be a better person. You not only let me grow and mature, discover new things, and expand my dreams, but also you were there with me each step of the way. I still have a long way to go but I am standing on your shoulders and that paves the way. Thank you for making all things possible.

- Sahar Soleimanifard (2015 Fellow)

Photo: Chevy Chase, MD, Spring 2012

Katherine Trujillo 

Born in South Central Los Angeles, Katherine is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Honduras. Katherine’s mother, a refugee from El Salvador, and her father, an economic migrant, sacrificed to no end to provide her with an education. Their tireless work ethic inspires Katherine’s commitment to advancing opportunities for others. After receiving her BA from UC Berkeley, Katherine received a master's of law degree at Ulster University as a Mitchell Scholar. As a 2015 Fellow, she is now pursuing her master’s at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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Dad,

Thank you for waking up at the crack of dawn to go into work and for staying up late with me to finish school projects. Thank you for driving me to countless football, basketball, and volleyball games as well as cheerleading and academic decathlon competitions. Thank you for taking on God knows how many side jobs just so I could afford to participate in these activities and for continuing to support me in all that I do. While I may have inherited your temper and dance moves, you’ve also taught me to be humble and hardworking as well as silly and fun-loving. ¡Feliz día del padre!

- Katherine Trujillo (2015 Fellow)

Photo: Me and dad at La Placita Olvera in downtown Los Angeles circa 1993. Even though he worked long hours and on weekends, whenever he could my dad found silly ways to make me feel special and loved -- like letting me wear a sombrero and ride a fake donkey! 

Gerald Tiu 

Gerald’s parents, who are ethnically Chinese, emigrated from Myanmar to seek out new opportunities in the United States, and to escape institutionalized racism that barred them from pursuing their dreams. Gerald was born in Anaheim, California. Gerald attended Harvard University and is now working towards his MD/PhD at Stanford University in the lab of Maria Barna, where he is investigating novel layers of RNA-mediated gene regulation. He is a 2015 Fellow.

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Hi Dad and Grandpa,  

As shown by these two photos, both of you have “lifted me up” in many ways. Dad - you were barred from chasing your dreams in Myanmar and thus made it a point in your life to give me all the support I would need to chase my dreams here in America. I know life has sometimes been difficult and I definitely have made things hard for you at times by arguing with you about almost everything, but I truly do appreciate your love and support. And Grandpa, I just wanted to let you know that although you passed away over ten years ago, I still admire the love and steady perseverance that embodied your life. I still remember how you took care of your 100 birds and taught me how to hand feed neglected chicks to how you helped me construct science projects when I was desperately in need of help. Thank you.

-Gerald Tiu (2015 Fellow)

 
Photo: Me with my dad (Bryan Tiu, 1994, park); me with my grandpa (Kyi Sein Tiu, 1991, Disneyland)