Three Refugees, Three Journeys to California

Syrian refugee Mohammad Aref Rawoas, Vietnamese refugee Viet Thanh Nguyen and Holocaust survivor Ben Stern (L-R).

Syrian refugee Mohammad Aref Rawoas, Vietnamese refugee Viet Thanh Nguyen and Holocaust survivor Ben Stern (L-R). (Laura Klivans and Sasha Khokha/KQED)

The California Report Magazine recently won an award from the Society of Professional Journalists for a show highlighting the stories of three Californians who have journeyed to the U.S. as refugees at different points in history. It originally aired in February 2017 after President Donald Trump announced his initial travel ban and plans to stop admission of certain refugees. We re-aired the show, with updates, in December.  Listen to the full show:

One man we profiled fled the Syrian civil war with his family, and recently settled in East Oakland. Another fled Vietnam in the wake of the Vietnam War in 1975, and settled in Los Angeles. A third fled the Holocaust in 1945, and settled in Berkeley after surviving nine Nazi concentration camps.

Mohammad Aref Rawoas

Mohammad Aref Rawoas shows off his garden in East Oakland. He stands among young figs, lemons, grapes, peas, and loquats. The small side yard pales in comparison to the nearly ten-acre farm the family had in Syria.
Mohammad Aref Rawoas shows off his garden in East Oakland. He stands among young figs, lemons, grapes, peas and loquats. The small side yard pales in comparison to the nearly 10-acre farm the family had in Syria. (Laura Klivans/KQED)

Name: Mohammad Aref Rawoas

Home Country: Syria

California Home: Oakland

Year immigrated: 2015

Why he fled: Syrian civil war

What he had to show to get in: fingerprints, identification cards, photos, iris scans, medical exams, five background checks, dozens of interviews

What he thinks of President Trump’s efforts to limit refugees: “We think the world is closed now to refugees because every country has reached its capacity or is closed. Where are people supposed to go? They will either stay inside [Syria] and die in the war, or they will try to get out and flee. If they don’t die inside, they’ll die at sea. We were joyful that doors opened for us, but now, for many people, life has become dark.”

Update, December 2017: The family has started a Bay Area catering business called Old Damascus Fare, making mostly Syrian dishes. “We are hoping that the catering business will help us to build a good life in this country,” says his daughter Batool. “We want to move past the struggles that come along with being a refugee, and hope to have an easier life.”

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen signs copies of his new collection of short stories, "The Refugees." Nguyen came to the United States with his family as a refugee from Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen signs copies of his new collection of short stories, “The Refugees.” Nguyen came to the United States with his family as a refugee from Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Name: Viet Thanh Nguyen

Home Country: Vietnam

California Home: Los Angeles

Year Immigrated: 1975

Why he fled: Communist victory in the Vietnam War

What he had to show to get in: “Obviously we didn’t have the kinds of documents we would have needed because we were war refugees. People who left in a more organized fashion before the final day of the invasion did have to present passports and visas. But people who were just literally jumping on boats to get out, we didn’t have those kinds of documents.”

What he thinks of President Trump’s efforts to restrict refugees: “I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. It’s happening to people that their lives have suddenly been utterly disrupted. The Trump administration has said this is simply a temporary disruption, but obviously if it’s your life and you’ve been cut off from your home, your family, your children, your spouse, it’s devastating.”

Update, December 2017:  Since we first braodcast this interview,  Viet Nguyen was awarded a  Macarthur “Genius” award for his fiction and cultural criticism. 

Ben Stern

Ben Stern holds up a copy of a newspaper clipping show him and his wife after they came to the United States as Jewish refugees after World War II. Stern survived two ghettos, nine concentration camps and two death marches.
Ben Stern holds up a copy of a newspaper clipping show him and his wife after they came to the United States as Jewish refugees after World War II. Stern survived two ghettos, nine concentration camps and two death marches. (Sasha Khokha/KQED)

Name: Ben Stern

Home Country: Poland

California Home: Berkeley

Year Immigrated: 1945

Why he fled: Holocaust

What he had to show to get in: His tattoo from a Nazi concentration camp

What he thinks of President Trump’s executive orders: “We as American people must say not now, not here. The Constitution offers the freedom of speech and religion. We need to help the people when they reach for a handout.”

Update, December 2017: In August, Ben Stern led an anti-racism march in downtown Berkeley.  He’ll be speaking at a screening of “Near Normal Man,” a documentary about his life,  on January 25 in Berkeley.

Three Refugees, Three Journeys to California 4 January,2018Sasha Khokha

Author

Sasha Khokha

Sasha Khokha is the host of The California Report  weekly magazine program, which takes listeners on sound-rich radio excursions around the Golden State.

As The California Report’s Central Valley Bureau Chief for nearly a dozen years, Sasha brought the lives and concerns of rural Californians to listeners around the state. Sasha’s reporting helped exposed the hidden price immigrant women janitors and farmworkers may pay to keep their jobs: sexual assault at work — and helped change California law with regard to sexual harassment of farmworkers.  She’s won a national PRNDI award for investigative reporting, as well as multiple prizes from the Radio Television News Directors Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

She began her radio career in waterproof overalls, filing stories about the salmon fishery at Raven Radio in Sitka, AK. She has produced and reported for several documentary films. Calcutta Calling, about children adopted from India to Swedish-Lutheran Minnesota, was nominated for an Emmy Award.

Sasha is  a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Brown University, and is the mother of two young children.

Author

Laura Klivans

Laura Klivans is a community health reporter at KQED. In addition to KQED, her work can be heard on NPR, Here & Now, and PRI. Before getting hooked on all things audio, she worked in education, leading groups of students abroad. One of her favorite jobs was teaching on the Thai-Burmese border, working with immigrants and refugees.

Laura won the 2016 North Gate Award for Excellence in Audio Reporting and Production and the Gobind Behari Lal Award for Excellence in Reporting on a Science or Health Story for a radio documentary about adults with imaginary friends. She’s done many fellowships, including UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Fellowship and the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs. Laura has a master’s in journalism from U.C. Berkeley and a master’s in education from Harvard.

She likes to eat chocolate. For breakfast.

lklivans@kqed.org, twitter: @lauraklivans, www.lauraklivans.com

Author

Suzie Racho

Suzie Racho is the producer/director of The California Report Magazine. She also works with several other KQED productions,  including Bay Curious, The Do List and KQED News.

Suzie came to KQED in 1996 after receiving a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University and spending several years working in the music industry.  As part of The California Report team, her work  has been recognized by the Society for Professional Journalists, National Federation of Community Broadcasters and  Public Radio News Directors Incorporated,  among others.  She spends her free time baking, listening to records and rooting for the San Francisco Giants.

Author

Ryan Levi

Ryan Levi is a reporter and producer at KQED News and the host of the weekly Q’ed Up podcast. Ryan started at KQED as an intern where he reported on-air and online for The California Report, The California Report Magazine and KQED’s daily newscasts. Prior to joining KQED in 2016, Ryan was a general assignment reporter and producer at KBIA-FM, the NPR member station in Columbia, Missouri. Ryan reported on Columbia’s renewed fight against homelessness as well as coordinating the station’s coverage of the annual True/False Film Fest, one of the top documentary film festivals in the country. Ryan has also written about film, food, books, religion, theater and other topics for various publications. You can find Ryan on Twitter @ryan_levi.

Author

Victoria Mauleon

Victoria Mauleón is The California Report’s senior editor, overseeing the production and editorial direction of the weekly, statewide news magazine program. She is the show’s primary content editor, working with KQED reporters, member station reporters and freelancers.

Victoria has  taught advanced radio and podcasting at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Before her work in radio, Victoria worked as a television producer, and her work aired on PBS, MSNBC, HBO, VH1, and AMC. Her work has earned her a Northern California Emmy Award, a John Swett Award, an Excellence in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, two San Francisco Peninsula Press Club awards and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Author

Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel is the Health Editor at KQED, where she also reports for the radio and online. Her stories have appeared on the national NPR shows Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Here & Now, and on the national website, Kaiser Health News. Her print career included stints at the Houston Chronicle, The (Bergen) Record,  and the Associated Press in New York City. A native of St. Louis, Feibel attended Cornell University, and earned a master’s in journalism from Columbia University.

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