My City Was a Sparkling Jewel: Voices of Newcomer Youth from Afghanistan is the latest installment of our youth voices series that includes the journeys of nineteen young men and eleven young women whose lives were all radically disrupted by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021.
Their stories share the challenges faced, opportunities grasped, and dreams these youth had, and still have, for themselves, and for the families and friends they left behind.
While the future of Afghanistan and its youth in the United States is still uncertain, these first-person stories illuminate the harrowing contours of the unjust displacement these young people experienced and bear witness to the early days of their resettlement in the United States.
30 illustrated portraits
Introduction by Arash Yousufi
Using a trauma-informed approach to storytelling, Green Card Voices and its partners from diasporic Afghanistan, carefully collected first-person accounts of the diverse journeys of nineteen young men and eleven young women on their path to resettling in Minnesota. These stories were gathered at the speed of trust using a mix of handwritten essays and oral storytelling in English, Dari/Farsi, and Pashto. The storytellers, ages fifteen to twenty, come from various ethnic groups—Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik—so their stories detail a wide range of experiences.
Thirty storytellers ages fifteen to twenty, nineteen young men and eleven young women, attend three major high schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul: Thomas Edison High School, South High School, and LEAP High School. Of the three high schools we partnered with, Edison High School currently holds the largest number of Afghan students in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) with a total of 27, while South High School has 11 Afghan students (as of January 2023). LEAP High School currently hosts 21 Afghan students, which is the largest number of Afghan students in Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS).
Thomas Edison High School (Edison), more commonly referred to as Edison, is the only public high school in the Northeast community of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was named after the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison. Located in the Holland neighborhood, the school opened in 1922 and as can be found on Edison’s school website: “Through innovation and personal empowerment, the Edison community will partner with our students, igniting a passion for lifelong learning, instilling the ideals of international mindedness, leading our students to succeed at Edison and beyond.”
Our educational partners were Ms. Tara Kennedy and Ms. Katie Murphy-Olsen who were partners with us on our previous publications: Green Card Youth Voices: Minneapolis and children’s bilingual series Our Stories Carried Us Here: Belonging in America and Mexico, Vol.1.
South High School (South/SHS) is a four-year comprehensive public high school in the Corcoran neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A member of the Minneapolis Public Schools district, it is Minneapolis’s oldest and largest public high school. It is distinguished for its exemplary academic programs, dynamic theater and music productions, studies in engineering, visual arts and world languages! South embraces all students and is proud of our diversity. Our educator partner at South was Angelica Torralba-Olague, who started off the Educator Pathways Program at SHS that aims to diversify the teaching force by exposing students to educator pathways/ experiences while they’re still in highschool. South is committed to educating students and setting them up for success as lifelong learners and strives to maintain a positive school wide culture, a climate of respect and an enlightened awareness of and commitment to the community.
LEAP High School is an Area Learning Center high school for English Language Learners (ELL) that is part of the Saint Paul Public Schools system in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was founded in autumn of 1994 by Jeff Dufresne and Sandra Hall as a high school for newly arrived immigrants to the city of Saint Paul. As can be found on their school website: “LEAP High School is dedicated to serving students who are new to the United States and who are learning English while earning a high school diploma. As an alternative high school, LEAP High School enrolls English Learner (EL) students up to age 21, and at all levels 1-4, and provides an educational opportunity for students whose needs often do not match the offerings provided in traditional high schools.”
We partnered with LEAP high school for a previous book project: Green Card Youth Voices: St. Paul and were excited to partner with them again for My City was a Sparkling Jewel. Our educational partners there were Joe Baumgart and Cynthia Henning. These educators have shown throughout the book making process, both current and former, that they are committed to ensuring that their students’ stories are published and shared.
Praise and Reviews
“My City Was a Sparkling Jewel portrays a vivid picture of how children experienced childhood amid an ongoing war. It also shows how the disastrous fall of the Afghan government disrupted the lives of millions and suspended their dreams. Each story is different, but they all show the human cost of conflict and the resilience of the Afghan youth to survive, adapt, and hope.”
“This book gives the reader first-hand knowledge into the lives of our Afghan students. The student authors detail their personal experiences, lives in Afghanistan, and their journeys to America in their own words. I highly recommend this book. ”
“My City was a Sparkling Jewel encompasses the painful journey through displacement in Afghanistan and resettlement in a country full of unknowns. Through countless hardships, our youth exemplify hope and strength. These intelligent, resilient, and brave teens are the voices that will advocate for newcomers in this country and those that were left behind.”
“My City Was a Sparkling Jewel uses the power of oral history to elucidate the very personal impacts of the United States’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan on the lives of Afghan youth. The book includes accounts of storytellers from diverse ethnic groups, including the Hazara who are predominantly Shia Muslim and who have faced oppression in Afghanistan because of their religion. Readers will discover a flawed process that scattered close-knit families across army bases and witness the pain of loneliness and loss, displacement, and uncertainty in their accounts of flight and resettlement. ”
“My City Was a Sparkling Jewel, is an innovative book of nostalgia by a group of innocent victims of America’s longest war in Afghanistan. Their reflections about their shattered homeland, family, relatives and friends. It is also about their anxieties, fears, uncertainties but filled with their hopes and expectations. These firsthand narratives tell the untold stories of the consequences of America’s forever wars globally, as well as, the inspiring good well of the ordinary Americans in Minnesota and beyond, to the newest youthful immigrants to this promised land. A must read for teachers, school administrators, policy makers and NGOs assisting future American compatriots.”
“My City was a Sparkling Jewel: Voices of Newcomer Youth From Afghanistan is a welcome collection of first-person testimonials of escape, hardship, and loss tempered with accounts of grit, hope, and appreciation. The Afghan evacuee experience is in some ways distinctive, but it shares many aspects with other groups of people who have come to the United States. Though the 2021 Afghan airlift was reminiscent of previous mass evacuations such as those from Cuba and Vietnam, it was unique in that it was watched live on television by millions of shocked and dismayed viewers around the world – many of them wondering what the future holds for the thousands of people who were left behind and those who were able to be evacuated. This anthology provides readers with hard-to-find youth perspectives on Afghanistan, the evacuation, and how resettlement in the U.S. is taking shape. The book can also be used as a starting point where the experiences of these Afghan young people and their families can be compared and contrasted with those of the many other immigrant and refugee groups, past and present, who have sought safety and freedom in the U.S. Finally, countless teachers, colleagues, caseworkers, veterans, volunteers, and other allies who have worked closely with Afghans, have been vicariously impacted by the intense fear, uncertainty, and heartbreak of the last few years – what is sometimes described as secondary trauma. In these accounts, Afghan allies can get some comfort and reassurance knowing that these families are working through many of the challenges they face and that Afghan youth have already identified successes and reasons for optimism as they continue the process of building new lives.”
“In the fateful summer of 2020, the Coalition transported 122,000 Afghans from their homeland to the shores of America to escape the Taliban’s conquering army. For the first time, this remarkable book gives the youth who fled their world to ours in that desperate evacuation a voice. My City was a Sparkling Jewel is a moving story of lost villages in distant mountains, dreams that could not be extinguished, the horrors of growing up in a land rent by warfare and terrorism, and ultimately of courage and hope as the young storytellers provide an unparalleled account of what it’s like to flee to a strange land and rebuild their lives among average Americans.”