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Separated by Time and Distance, Best Friends Reunited After More Than Three Decades

Pak Yan and Joe Chan grew up in the same neighborhood in Hong Kong. They developed a close friendship, learning to ride bikes without training wheels and walking each other to school every day. Then, in 1962, Joe’s family moved to the U.S., seeking refuge amidst the Great Chinese Famine.

Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chang at a StoryCorps interview in San Francisco on September 18, 2014. By Geraldine Ah-Sue for StoryCorps.

An ocean between them, the two sent handwritten letters weekly via airmail. But after several years, as they moved and their addresses changed, the two lost contact. Pak often wondered what had become of his friend, and when he was 30 years old he also moved to the U.S. Years later—in 2000, when the internet was still relatively new—Pak decided to use Yahoo to search for his friend. He found 108 Joe Chan’s and called them one by one, leaving voice messages until he finally reached Joe on the 104th call.

“It’s like we just picked up where we left off,” Joe said. In 2014, the two men came to StoryCorps to remember their reunion.

 
Top Photo: Pak Yan (left) and Joe Chan (right) at Friendship Park in Richmond, CA soon after they reunited. The text on the rock reads ‘friendship’ in Chinese. 

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 25, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

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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. 

They Called Him Papu: The Life of a Beloved Grandfather

During World War II, Ricardo Ovilla came from Chiapas, Mexico as part of the Bracero Program, the largest guest worker program in U.S. history. He went where the work took him, travelling across the country to pick fruits and lay railways. It was hard labor, but Ricardo hoped to build his family a home in a new country. Eventually he did just that, bringing his wife and kids to the United States. 

In those early days, things were tough. Ricardo’s whole family worked alongside him in the fields picking fruits amidst thorny branches. But no matter how hard things got, Ricardo refused to be demoralized. He’s remembered by his granddaughters Martha Escutia and Marina Jimenez as an eternal optimist — a man “whose mission was just to bring joy to his family and his kids.”

At StoryCorps in July of 2020, Martha and Marina took time to reflect on Ricardo’s incredible journey. He was born of the Zoque People in Southern Mexico, and joined the Mexican Navy at 18. He crossed the border in El Paso, Texas and picked fruit in fields where Disneyland stands today. 

A young Ricardo Ovilla, who served in the Mexican Navy when he was just 18. Courtesy of Martha Escutia.

Ricardo passed away in 1999, shortly after naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. But he lives on in his granddaughters’ stories. To them, he will always be the tender hearted, marimba-loving, menudo aficionado who stopped at nothing to see his children laugh. They knew him simply as “Papu.”

Ricardo “Papu” Ovilla with his wife Marina “Mamina,” surrounded by their grandchildren. Courtesy of Marina Jimenez.

This story was recorded as part of American Pathways, StoryCorps’ new initiative to record, preserve, and share the stories and experiences of immigrants, refugees, asylees, and Muslims living in the United States. Learn more here.

Top Photo: (L) Ricardo “Papu” Ovilla with daughter (R) Martha Sandoval and their family’s first car. Seated inside are Ricardo’s children Aurelia and Rodolfo Sandoval. Photo taken in 1949 at a labor camp in Escondido, CA. Courtesy of Marina Jimenez.

Originally aired August 21, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

How One of the First Legally Married Same-Sex Couples in the US Made it Down the Aisle

On November 18, 2003, in the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared that “…barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.” This allowed same-sex couples to be legally married in the state of Massachusetts, the first state in the United States to do so.

David Wilson (above left), one of the plaintiffs in that landmark case, was also one of the first to be married when the law went into effect on May 17th, 2004. In 2010, David first came to StoryCorps to reflect on his difficult path to get to his wedding day.

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Nine years later, David and his husband, Robert Compton, came to StoryCorps to reflect on their journey as they approach their 15th wedding anniversary.

Top photo: David Wilson and his husband Robert Compton at their StoryCorps recording in Palm Springs, California in 2019. By Jud Esty-Kendall.
Bottom photo: David Wilson, officiant Reverend Ms. Kim K. Crawford Harvie, and Robert Compton on their wedding day on May 17, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. Courtesy of David Wilson.

Originally aired May 17, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition.