American Pathways – StoryCorps
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How An Unexpected Deportation Cut A Young Musician’s Career Short

Decio Rubano still remembers the day he learned to play the drums. He was 12- years-old and playing stickball outside his home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when his uncle Jimmy pulled up in his car. It was the start of WWll and Jimmy, a working musician, had just lost his drummer to the Army. Rubano remembers his uncle saying, “Hey kid, I need a drummer tonight, so you’re going to play.” Jimmy took out two spoons and showed Rubano how different beats were played.

From that first performance, Rubano says he got “the bug” and couldn’t stop making music. After high school, his career as a drummer was taking off until one night, when he was visiting his grandparents, a pair of immigration officers knocked on the door—Rubano was quickly deported to Montreal, Canada.

Middle Photo: At 17 years-old, Decio Rubano began his professional drumming career when he was scouted to play on the Arthur Godfrey radio show in Miami. Courtesy of Gina Livingston.

Rubano had been born in Montreal because his opera singer mother had taken a job for the season at the Montreal Civic Opera while pregnant with Rubano. As a young man, Rubano was shocked to learn he was not a U.S. citizen.

Rubano signed up for the U.S. Air Force and served in the Korean War. While he continued playing the drums for many years, he never returned to the music business. At StoryCorps, Rubano tells his daughter, Gina Livingston, “I did one thing right in my life. I raised you. You’ve been a joy as a daughter. Everybody should be as lucky as I am.”

Bottom Photo: While stationed on Johnston Island with the US Air Force, Decio Rubano hosted a jazz radio station in his spare time.  Courtesy of Gina Livingston. 

Top Photo: Decio Rubano and Gina Livingston at their StoryCorps interview in Decatur, Georgia on October 31, 2022. By John St. Denis for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired November 11, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Your support makes it possible for StoryCorps, an independently funded nonprofit, to collect, archive, and share the stories of people from all backgrounds because everyone’s stories deserve to be heard.

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For Those Left Behind: An Afghan American Marine Reflects On His Homeland

In 1980, Ajmal Achekzai fled Afghanistan during the onset of the Soviet–Afghan War, leaving his birth city of Kabul behind. He was only five years old.

The next time he would return would be in November of 2001. U.S. Marines were the first major ground forces sent to Afghanistan after 9/11. Ajmal was among them. 

Cpl. Ajmal Achekzai talks with two Afghan locals on December 10, 2001 at the perimeter of a patrol base in Southern Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Joseph R. Chenelly/USMC/Getty Images.

Twenty years later, Ajmal is witnessing the return of Taliban control. He sat down with StoryCorps to remember where he came from, the dire uncertainty of Afghanistan’s future and the love he has for its people.

Ajmal Achekzai with his mother, in July of 2001, at the Salt Lake International Airport. Courtesy of the Achekzai family.
Top Photo: Ajmal Achekzai at his StoryCorps interview in Costa Mesa, CA, on August 19th, 2016. By Liyna Anwar for StoryCorps.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices and Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired September 03, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“You’re My Forever Love”: Reflections On Over 30 Years Of Friendship

In the late 1980s, Julaina Glass had moved from her childhood home in Washington Heights, NY, to a small studio in Harlem. Julaina was 19 and living alone, but she found a fast friend in her upstairs neighbor, Beau McCall.

Beau was an artist and older than Julaina by about 10 years. His apartment became like a second home to her and they soon became inseparable.

Nearly 35 years after they first met, Beau and Julaina came to StoryCorps to reminisce about some of their happiest memories together, and to look back on how it all began.

Top Photo: Beau McCall and Julaina Glass at their StoryCorps interview in New York, NY on June 3, 2017. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the I, Too Arts Collective. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired May 14, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

For the Love of Books: One Librarian Makes All the Difference

As a young father in Brooklyn, NY, Rich Jean wasn’t always sure how to keep his three year old daughter, Abigail, busy and happy. He decided to start taking her to their local library. Abigail was soon enrolled in one of their programs for young learners. That is where they met an aspiring librarian, Hasina Islam. Hasina was still an intern at that time, but immediately did everything she could to encourage Abigail in her love of books.

Four years after that first encounter, Rich, Abigail and Hasina came to StoryCorps to talk about how that chance meeting set them on a path to friendship.

Hasina Islam and Abigail Jean after their StoryCorps recording on April 25, 2021. Courtesy of Hasina Islam and Rich Jean. 

Five years later, while separated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hasina and Abigail came back to StoryCorps to reconnect remotely with a second recording in 2021.

Top Photo: Rich Jean, Abigail Jean and Hasina Islam at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, NY on November 5, 2016. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.
The 2016 interview was recorded in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and IMLS National Medal winner, Brooklyn Public Library.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired April 30, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Divided By Immigration Status: Brothers Reflect On Their Bond

Growing up in Bakersfield, California, Randy Villegas and his older brother Angel lived under the same roof, but in separate realities: Randy was a U.S. citizen, but Angel was undocumented.

Randy (left) and Angel (right)  at the California Speedway car show, in Fontana, CA. in 1999

In 2012, Angel became a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a government program that protects nearly 700,000 immigrants brought into the United States as children from deportation. It also grants them a range of benefits, such as work permits and health insurance from employers who offer it. Despite this, every decision Angel makes is still influenced by the uncertainty of his residency status.

The two siblings came to StoryCorps in 2020, when they were in their twenties, to talk for the first time about the moment Angel realized he was undocumented, and how that affected their relationship.

Top Photo: Angel and Randy Villegas at Angel’s graduation ceremony from the New School of Architecture & Design in San Diego in 2018. Courtesy of the participants.

This interview is part of the Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired April 23rd, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Longing For The Home She Left Behind: One Woman Reflects On The Refugee Experience

Growing up, Najat Hamza was a precocious child, and one of twelve siblings in a large and close-knit family. She grew up in Oromia, a regional state located in Ethiopia, but due to a violent conflict in the region, she was forced to flee with her father and two older siblings when she was a young teenager. 

Leaving the rest of her family behind, they initially went to Kenya before resettling in Minnesota, where she still lives today. 

Photo: Natjat Hamza in Stillwater, Minnesota in 2020.

In 2017, she came to StoryCorps to reflect on her refugee experience and the unshakable longing for the home she left behind. 

Top Photo: Najat Hamza in Maplewood, Minnesota in 2017. Courtesy of Najat Hamza.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices and Tapestry of Voices Collection through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired April 16th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.  

“I Have These Dreams Where I Go Back”: Dad and Daughter Mourn a Syria They Once Knew

Walid Sakaan grew up in Syria and immigrated to Memphis in his 20s, where he settled and raised a family of his own. Despite moving away, he always stayed connected to where he was from— which included a large close knit family, where he was one of eleven siblings. 

Photo: Walid Sakaan (bottom center) with his siblings in Aleppo in 2006.

In an attempt to connect to her father’s roots, Walid’s daughter, Magda, moved to Syria as an adult and built a life for herself there but when the war began in 2011, she left and they have both not been back since. 

They came to StoryCorps to remember both the country and the people they love.

Top Photo (left to right): Magda Sakaan and Walid Sakaan at their StoryCorps interview in Memphis, Tennessee in 2019. By Eleanor Vassili for StoryCorps.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired March 12th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Room In My Heart: How One Woman Found Forgiveness After Her Brother’s Murder

On January 21st, 1995, 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa, a student at San Diego State University, was out delivering a pizza, when a gang tried to rob him. Things escalated, and at the urging of an older gang member, 14-year-old Tony Hicks shot and killed Tariq.

Tariq Khamisa as a high school senior. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

Tony became the youngest person in California to be charged as an adult, and spent the majority of his sentence at maximum-security prisons.

As the Khamisa family was grieving, Tariq’s father, Azim, leaned on his spiritual practice as a Sufi Muslim. 

In 2000, five years after Tariq’s death, Azim went to Folsom State Prison to meet Tony for the first time (you can hear them in conversation here). 15 years later, Tariq’s older sister, Tasreen, did the same. The friendships forged between the Khamisa family and Tony directly contributed to Tony’s release from prison in 2019.

To hear more from the Khamisa family and Tony, check out this episode of the StoryCorps podcast.

Top Photo: Tasreen Khamisa and Tony Hicks. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired March 5th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Both Ends of the Gun: How Two Men Were Brought Together in Tragedy and Forgiveness

On January 21st, 1995, 20-year-old Tariq Khamisa, a student at San Diego State University, was out delivering a pizza, when a gang tried to rob him. Things escalated, and at the urging of an older gang member, 14-year-old Tony Hicks shot and killed Tariq.

Photo: Tariq Khamisa as a high school senior. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

Tony became the youngest person in California, at the time, to be charged as an adult; he was sent to a maximum-security prison at the age of 16.

In the years that followed, Tariq’s father, Azim, came to the realization that “there were victims on both sides of the gun.”  Soon after, he reached out to Tony’s grandfather (and guardian), Ples Felix. They developed a friendship and worked side by side to start a restorative justice foundation in Tariq’s name.

Five years after Tariq was killed, Azim went to Folsom State Prison and met Tony for the first time, and they’ve been in touch ever since. 

In 2019, at the age of 39, Tony was released from prison. He now works as a plumber and volunteers his time with the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

Tony and Azim recently spoke over StoryCorps Connect to remember the day they met, and the unexpected connection that was forged between them.

Top Photo: Tony Hicks with Azim Khamisa in 2019. Courtesy of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired February 26, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A COVID Love Story: Detroit Couple Reflect on How a Difficult Year Brought Them Closer Together

When they first met, it didn’t take long for Namira and Omar Anani to fall in love. For Omar it was instant, but for Namira, it was Omar’s small acts of kindness that made her realize he was the one.  

They got married in November of 2019, but just four months into their marriage, their busy lives changed as Namira, a non-profit lawyer and Omar, a restaurateur, were faced with a slew of challenges brought on by the arrival of COVID-19.

They came to StoryCorps to reflect on a difficult year and how it ultimately brought them closer together. 

Photo: Namira and Omar Anani at their wedding in 2019. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.
Top Photo: Namira and Omar Anani in 2020. Courtesy of Namira Islam Anani.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the Arab American National Museum. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired February 19th, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.