by danny hajjar, Alayna Hutchinson and allie judge
Music is universal to all human cultures—a method of artistic expression, religious worship, cultural celebration, and so much more. As Stevie Wonder said, it’s “a language we all understand.” Yet it’s the uniqueness of music that makes it an extraordinary way to celebrate our own cultures or discover a window into other cultural experiences.
In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, first-generation Lebanese-American and avid music lover Danny Hajjar put together an Arab Heritage Month playlist for the KAMA community. Originally from Beirut, Danny’s family moved to Boston where he was born and raised. He now lives in DC where he works in media relations and DJs part-time, sharing his culture through his popular weekly newsletter, which highlights interesting news, guest features, stories of the Middle East and North Africa, music, arts, culture, and more. The title of the newsletter appropriately captures two of its main themes, Lebanese culture and music: “Sa’alouni El Nas,” which is one of Danny’s favorite songs by the iconic Lebanese singer Fairuz and translates from Arabic to English to mean “The People Asked Me.” And we asked Danny to share some music that captures the diversity of Arab culture and artists to celebrate this month.
This playlist features a mix of new artists, throwbacks, and musicians in the diaspora that you may not know have ties to the Middle East and North Africa. Check it out below, and be sure to subscribe to Danny’s newsletter to continue getting music recommendations and more!
Arab Heritage Month Playlist
By Allie Judge
Although history books have not always reflected it, for the whole course of human history women have been inventors, leaders, revolutionaries, artists and changemakers. March is Women’s History Month — a special time to uplift women, share their stories and celebrate their impacts throughout history. At KAMA DC, we wanted to share the inspiring stories of six women immigrants who impacted U.S. history. In spite of facing barriers due to gender, race, class and their status as immigrants, these women stand as role models for perseverance and courage. Whether these names are familiar to you or not, their impacts continue to echo in our lives -- and we hope you are as inspired by their stories as we are.
Originally from England, Blackwell’s parents were sugar refiners, Quakers and anti-slavery activists. She moved to New York when she was 11 and eventually became the first woman in the U.S. to receive a medical degree and be listed on the Medical Register. After spending years facing discrimination as a female physician, she founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1957 with her sister, Emily. Ten years later, she founded her own medical college in New York City. She spent her life advocating for education for women in medicine.
Born near Shanghai, Wu studied physics at a university there and was encouraged by a professor to pursue her studies in the U.S. She immigrated in 1936 and obtained a PhD in physics from Berkeley. Despite vehement anti-Asian racism at the time, Wu was so brilliant that she was recruited to work on the Manhattan project and eventually dubbed the “First Lady of Physics.” She made significant advancements in the study of beta decay in atoms, for which she was controversially passed over for a Nobel Prize that was awarded to her male colleagues.
Jones is a Jamaican-born model, actress and singer whose unique androgynous style, striking features and talent cemented her status as an icon in the 1980s. She began modeling at the age of 18 before eventually signing a record deal, after which she became a notable figure in disco, new wave and reggae. She also became a world-famous fashion icon, model and actress, breaking barriers as a dark-skinned woman who defied gender norms. Jones has served as inspiration for many superstars who followed, including Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé.
Born in Austria-Hungary, Lamarr fled her home country due to the spread of Nazism as well as an abusive marriage. In the U.S., she grew to be a world-renowned actress during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite a lack of formal education, she’s widely known for her genius as an inventor: Lamarr helped create a radio guidance system that was used during World War II to prevent torpedo jamming. This technology was eventually incorporated into modern inventions such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS.
Allende has been called "the world's most widely read Spanish-language author." Originally born to a political Chilean family, she helped endangered families flee to Venezuela after her uncle, the president of Chile, was overthrown in a coup. In Venezuela, she worked as a reporter and wrote her debut novel, "The House of Spirits," which achieved critical acclaim. In 1987, she moved to the U.S. where she has continued writing and advocating for women and children in the developing world.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones
Sixty-five year-old Mother Jones was once labeled "the most dangerous woman" in the country by a prosecutor when she was jailed for organizing with striking mine workers. Having left Ireland as a child during the Irish Potato Famine, Jones became a labor activist after the Great Chicago Fire destroyed her business. She was so relentless in her organizing that at one time she had no permanent address. The progressive magazine, Mother Jones, stands as a testament to her impact, having been named after her more than a century after she began her work.
Dishes from (L-R): Colada Shop, Amoo's, Mélange, and Mikko Nordic
by Ben Jaffe
One year ago for the launch of our blog, we highlighted 10 immigrant-owned restaurants in the DMV that you can support. The great thing about the DMV is that there are so many restaurants featuring cuisines from hundreds of different cultures, so there are always new ones to visit and support. We decided to follow up our first blog with 10 more immigrant-owned restaurants that you should check out. Some are well known spots that you may have heard of, and some are lesser-known spots to be explored. For anyone uncomfortable with indoor seating, all the restaurants listed have take-out options, and we have noted which restaurants have outdoor seating.
El Tamarindo - Salvadoran / Mexican (Adams Morgan, DC)
Founded in 1982 by Jose and Betty Reyes, El Tamarindo serves up some of the best Salvadoran/Mexican food the DMV has to offer. The menu holds everything you could ever want: pupusas, tamales, burritos, chimichangas, soups, etc. With happy hour every weekday, a special taco Tuesday, and a menu that will satisfy carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten/dairy intolerances, El Tamarindo has a little bit for everyone. Bonus: they have a fabulous covered and outdoor seating area with plenty of space for both large and intimate groups.
Eclectic Cafe - Caribbean / Jamaican (Central Northeast, DC)
Eclectic Café was started by Caple Green who worked as a high school teacher in his native Jamaica and, after attending Howard University, opened the café with the goal of showcasing the mix of cuisines from his own life. Located steps from the Minnesota Ave Metro, the cafe is a family-owned and operated restaurant mixing classic diner and deli menu items with Caribbean specialties. Feeling some French toast, pancakes, or chicken and waffles? They’ve got you covered. Feeling some curried goat, jerk chicken, or oxtails with a side of plantains? They’ve got you there too.
Thanh Son Tofu - Vietnamese (Eden Center, VA)
Arguably the pinnacle of Vietnamese cuisine in the DMV area that once attracted Anthony Bourdain for an episode of No Reservations, Thanh Son Tofu was started by Hanh Trinh in 2003. This restaurant specializes not only in fried tofu, such as lemongrass chili pepper and onion mushroom, but also different desserts such as sticky rice, sesame balls, and coconut puddings. Partially-covered outdoor seating is available on the sidewalk and in the parking lot.
Mikko - Nordic (Dupont Circle, DC)
Nordic cuisine wasn’t a feature of the DMV restaurant scene until Mikko opened in 2018 and began dishing out Finnish-style soups, Danish open-faced sandwiches, and Swedish desserts. Owner Mikko Kosonen’s resume includes a Michelin-rated restaurant in France and 15 years cooking for the Finnish ambassador before opening this spot in DC. With covered outdoor seating, make sure to stop by for an often-changing menu that features cardamom buns, warm chili, and schnitzel.
Mélange - Ethiopian/French (Mount Vernon Triangle, DC)
On the surface, Mélange, which means “mix” in French, may seem like a regular spot for burgers and ice cream. However, upon closer examination, the menu, created by owner and head chef Elias Taddesse (winner of Eater DC’s “Chef of the Year 2021”), contains items showcasing a fusion of Ethiopian and French cuisine, reflecting Elias’ Ethiopian origins and French culinary training. Be sure to check out items like The National, a fried chicken sandwich fused with Ethiopian Doro Wat, and the vegan burger called The Beyaynetu, which is made up of the usual suspects from an Ethiopian vegetarian platter.
Amoo’s Restaurant - Iranian/Persian (McClean, VA)
Hidden over in McClean, VA, Amoo’s Restaurant has all the Iranian/Persian food you could want. Chef and co-owner Sebastian Oveysi and his family came to North Virginia in 1994 and the family-owned restaurant began serving up a menu of flame-grilled meats, vegetarian kabobs, and stews served over beds of saffron rice. If you’re going with a crowd, make sure to see their shareables menu which includes hummus, olivieh, tahdig, torshi, and mast kheyar. While outdoor seating is not an option, Linway Terrace Park is just a short walk away and has tables with seating.
Keren Cafe - Eritrean/East African (Adams Morgan, DC)
Across the street from the previously mentioned El Tamarindo, Keren serves up a beautiful mix of Eritrean and East African cuisine for all times of the day. If you’re feeling a larger dinner, you’ll find reasonably-priced entrees that include tibsi, shiro, and fish dulet, which all come with at least two sides and a whole bunch of injera for you to enjoy. In the mood for breakfast? You’ll have plenty of options with mashed fava beans, egg sandwiches, frittatas, and more. Though a small restaurant, co-owner Tekie Ghrebrekrstos confirms that there is rarely a quiet moment at Keren: “We don’t have much break. We don’t have a day off. Every day we make sure everything’s perfected.”
Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly - Filipino (Rockville, MD)
Led by owner and head chef, Javier Fernandez, who was enrolled in D.C.’s own L’Academie de Cuisine, Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly opened in 2018 and has been treating the Rockville community to fabulous Filipino ever since. Though most well known for their Lechon pork belly, which is slow cooked in lemongrass, green onions, garlic, and pineapple, their menu also has chori-burgers, crispy adobo chicken sandwiches, fried rice, and much more. While outside seating is unavailable, a short walk will bring you to White Flint Park, which has benches to sit on–or bring a blanket and make it a picnic!
Swahili Village - Kenyan/African (Dupont Circle, DC; Beltsville, MD; Tyson’s Corner, VA)
Owner and head chef Kevin Onyona originally studied to be a priest when he moved to the U.S. in 1999. Thankfully for all of our taste buds, he found that his true passion was cooking, and Swahili Village opened downtown in 2020 with the vision of showcasing the rich cultural traditions of African cuisine in a fine dining setting. Serving some of the finest Kenyan food the region has to offer, appetizers include samosas, wings, and bhajia, which are followed by curry chicken, sweet plantains, whole tilapia, lentils, and grilled goat. Outdoor seating is covered, but there is a limited amount, so reservations are recommended if you prefer the outdoor experience.
Colada Shop - Cuban (The Wharf & 14th St, DC; Potomac, MD; Fairfax, VA)
Finding her love of food at age 13 in the Dominican Republic, co-owner Daniella Senior founded Colada Shop with partner Mario Monte in 2016 with the goal of sharing the colorful flavors of the Caribbean with DC. Now with four locations across the DMV, the menu includes a mix of breakfast tostada, croquetas, Cuban sandwiches, and sweet plantains. Wanting dessert and a drink? Don’t miss out on their dulce de leche brownies, tres leches, cocktails, and alcoholic slushies. Outdoor seating, some covered, is available at most Colada Shop locations.
BY ALAYNA HUTCHINSON & ALLIE JUDGE
In the past five years of KAMA classes taught by immigrants, we have seen the incredible range of skills that they bring to our community. Many immigrants in the DMV area have turned their talents into a business, creating products that combine their passion and culture, and often using their profits to give back to the community in DC or their home country. As gift-giving season is upon us, we’ve created a list of 13 stores in the DMV that are owned by immigrants and/or support international artisans to shop from for some last minute gifts this holiday!
DC is My City
DC prints, postcards, stickers, and magnets
Carlos Carmonamedina is a visual artist and graphic designer born and raised in Mexico. When he moved to Washington, DC after living in France for seven years, he began the project “DC is My City” in 2016, designing postcards of DC’s famous landmarks and hidden gems. Five years later, he has continued this project and now has more than 200 prints and postcards, which have been featured in several exhibitions. In 2018, he was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “40 Under 40: People Saving Places” list. “Led by circumstance and fortune, I use my art to establish the familiarity of home in strange lands. Through my experimental narratives – drawings, animations, digital records – I situate and stretch the limits of my reality.”
Sankofa Video, Books, & Cafe
Books, videos, apparel, accessories
Ethiopian filmmaking couple Haile and Shirikiana Gerima opened this bookstore and cafe across from Howard University in 1998. Named for their internationally-acclaimed film, the Adrinka term for “going back to our past in order to go forward,” Sankofa specializes in videos and books about the African diaspora and has become a Pan-African cultural hub. In addition to books and videos, they also have stationery, African clothing and accessories, and one-of-a-kind earrings made by African Artisans.
Award-winning Venezuelan Master Chocolatier Anabella Arcay wants customers to “experience the art of chocolate.” Arcay Chocolates offers a variety of chocolate bars, spreads, chocolate-covered snacks, and colorful truffles, as well as new hot chocolate bombs and a chocolate paint kit for kids. The shop is located at Union Market in addition to the online store.
Wooden Pencil Co.
Owner Suwachi is an artist, designer, entrepreneur and mother of two cats. Originally from Kyoto, Japan, her cross-cultural life and design experience led her to the most recent art project, Wooden Pencil Company. Her unique prints feature state symbol art with vintage maps included in the designs. "Authenticity and trustworthiness are the essential qualities I strive for as I seek to re-establish a closer connection with my nature and past. My illustrations are forged with lasting appeal and modern flavor."
Clothing, fashion, jewelry
Ibhana was founded in 2002 when its founder, Meena Tharmaratnam, returned from a trip home to India with 100 beautiful cashmere and silk pashmina shawls. She sold all 100 in the first week to a local store, came home and designed her business card. The next month she quit her job and launched Ibhana Creations. You can visit their brick-and-mortar location in Bethesda, MD.
Clothes, accessories, home goods
Described as “a lifestyle brand where artisanal techniques meet cutting-edge design,” NOVA BOSSA works with more than 30 artisanal brands to sell a range of clothing, accessories, and home goods. Founder Carolina Furukrona’s mission to preserve the culture of her native Brazil and Latin America broadly as well as the environment is clear in NB’s partnership with sustainable brands from Brazil, Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia, and Mexico, “to offer a new style that is modern, authentic and rooted in the desire to preserve traditions, champion better lives and respect the environment.” Visit the store located in Union Market!
Japanese pottery and handmade crafts, kimonos
Miyajima Tomomi started Tokiya to provide a platform for artists from her local community of Toki City in Gifu, Japan. The storefront next to Hana Market in DC features a collection of traditional and modern Minoyaki pottery, a style of pottery that originated in Gifu and dates back to the seventh century, and a selection of other Japanese handmade crafts and kimonos.
From Egypt With Love
Jewelry, jewelry boxes, blown glass ornaments, Egyptian statues, Cartouches, leather slippers, embroidery
Mostafa Epy grew up watching his father make and sell jewelry in the Khan El Khalili bazaar in his home of Cairo, Egypt and describes him as a “master” craftsman. Now based in Springfield, VA, Mostafa is working to carry on his father’s legacy by sharing his designs — from beautiful handmade jewelry to intricate blown glass ornaments — through his Etsy shop. He hopes to give his customers “a little piece of egypt they can carry forever.”
Art, woven items, figurines
Since 2015, Tamara Barnabei has been supporting artisans from her home country of Venezuela through her shop. ARTTEPUYDC offers unique hand-made figurines, hand-woven pieces by Warao and Yekuana artisans, and a range of religious art. With this store, Tamara aims to share with the world “the passion and unlimited resilience of Venezualen artists and makers.” ARTTEPUYDC will have a pop up shop at Union Market until January 1.
Meaning “star” in Uzbek, YUL d’UZ creates outerwear from ikat, a traditional material from Central Asia. Ikat fabric is hand-made with pure silk and cotton and is commonly worn in the founder’s home country of Uzbekistan. It’s made by master craftsmen in Uzbekistan whose families have used the same technique for generations. Whether it’s a jacket, scarf, or pillow case, owner Yulia Semchenko says customers will know their piece is “one-of-kind, and will be able to share the history of the material when these bright clothes inevitable cause friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, and even strangers to stop and admire.”
50Hertz Sichuan Pepper
Pepper oil, dried peppers
Born and raised in Chongqing, China, 50Hertz founder Yao Zhao is bringing the flavor of his region to Washington, DC and beyond with his Sichuan pepper oil and dried peppers. 50Hertz was named for the frequency measurement of the tingling induced by Sichuan peppers, which Yao believes will strike a chord with foodies all over the world. And he’s proven his point - the New York Times called it “an oil that tingles and transforms.” The online store offers both green and red pepper oils and dried peppers, as well as gift sets.
Inspired by a neighbor in her native Moldova who shared childhood stories, knowledge, and sentimental items with her, Oxana Rusu wanted to share all that she had been given. She found an outlet through Romotiv, which she started as a way to share her creations with others. Romotiv’s Etsy site offers Oxana’s traditional Romanian and Moldovan hand-made pieces, including earrings, necklaces, and pins.
Skincare and haircare
Shea Radiance started in co-founders Funlayo and Shola Alabi’s kitchen, where they began making products for their family’s dry skin and eczema, and realized that shea butter was “the ultimate healing balm.” Now, they offer a range of products inspired by the traditional use of unrefined shea butter, including body creams and butters, hair care, and African Black soap. All of their shea butter is sourced directly from women-run cooperatives in Nigeria, the founders’ home country, to help create a pathway for economic growth and sustainability in their community where around 16 million women make their living from this product.
BY kama dc team
There’s nothing quite like a good book to bring a feeling, a culture or an experience to life. For immigrants and refugees, the journey that they take when moving to a new country is different for every individual, yet the themes that often accompany stories of immigration are universal — identity, culture, language, loss, triumph, loneliness, community, family, love.
This October, in honor of National Book Month, the volunteers at KAMA DC wanted to share with you some of our favorite stories written by immigrants and their children that touch on the experience of immigrants and refugees and all of the hardships and triumphs that accompany them.
We also encourage you to purchase from local bookstores or check them out from your public library for free! By purchasing from local bookstores, you are not only helping to support the local community, but also more of your purchase will go toward the author. Check out our list of some local DMV bookstores at the bottom of this page.
Without further ado, here is our list of 11 books written by immigrants and their children that we recommend:
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
“Ocean Vuong’s remarkable debut novel captures the violence of surviving as an immigrant in America. It is a letter from Little Dog, whose life closely resembles Vuong’s own, to his illiterate mother. Vuong is a poet and much of his writing feels more like poetry than prose. Though sometimes dense and often harrowing, the novel ultimately allows the narrator to reconcile the pain and grief of Little Dog’s relationships.” - Will T.
The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar
“An unforgettable book that skillfully maps the journey of Nour and her family as they flee Syria at the start of the 2011 Arab Spring, and how their travel reflects the journey of Rawiya, a young woman who travelled across the Middle East and North Africa 800 years previously. The story beautifully juxtaposes the rich history of the Middle East, the bliss ignorance of childhood, and the dark realities that face refugees.” - Ben
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
“Interior Chinatown is a book that asks to be read in a single sitting. Written in a format more akin to a television screenplay, Charles Yu's Chinatown breathlessly moves from scene to scene and character to character, exploring the insidious and painful and sometimes farcical stereotypes that seem to color the thoughts and behaviors of every character in the novel, even the folks whose backgrounds are not shared by the protagonist. He gives voice to the background characters of our society, revealing a world of whimsy and tragedy and above all, humanity, to people marginalized and burdened by the curse of expectations.” - Will L.
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
“Perfect for young adults or those that love a beautiful coming-of-age story with just a hint of magic — Zoboi masterfully weaves Haitian vodou and culture into the gritty Detroit streets that our main character, Fabiola, finds herself in. At times heartbreaking, but always full of love and family, American Street is a meditation on what it means to leave somewhere in search of a better life and find yourself amidst yet another disenfranchised community.” - Allie
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
“‘History has failed us, but no matter,’ is the opening line of Pachinko. This is Min Jin Lee's middle finger to history, which has often failed to record the lives and trials of ordinary people. We follow generations of this family as they navigate the hardships under the Japanese rule of Korea and integration as immigrants in Japan. Through the lense of one family, we face cultural, racial, and ethnic bias that reverberates through their tragic lives. As I read, I found myself constantly hoping for that fairytale ending — for a rags to riches story — but this novel is ultimately grounded in its realism.” - Dana
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“The novel explores the vastly different perspectives of the three main characters and their relationships to the war and each other as they experience profound love, loss, fear, and betrayal. Throughout the novel, Adichie writes both beautifully about Nigeria — transporting the reader to the sites, sounds, smells, and tastes of her home country — and with brutal honesty about the devastating costs of the war on the individual lives of the characters and the country as a whole.” - Alayna
“What does it mean to see? In this heart wrenching and compassionate novel, we travel with Afra and Nuri as they flee their destroyed ordinary lives in war-torn Syria and seek asylum in the United Kingdom. The reader experiences first-hand the terror, enduring trauma, and overwhelming odds against their survival as they escape across countries trying to find a new life and each other in the process. The reader must ask themselves ‘Do we really see and understand the plight of refugees?’” - Sarah
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
"As an Asian-American, this book perfectly and poignantly verbalizes my own wrestling and understanding of the conflicted position of Asian-Americans in the racial and capital hierarchy of America. I have felt all spectrums of emotions when reading this — from crying when reading how her parents debased themselves in the face of whiteness to pure puzzlement when learning of Black, white, and Asian racial triangulation. I absolutely loved this book — I cannot recommend it enough!" - Angie
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
“During an era of collective trauma, Gyasi’s work explores grief as an experience shaped by culture, curiosity and community. Transcendent Kingdom is definitive proof that we contain multitudes, and that it’s perfectly natural to want to yell at God. Equal parts scientific and spiritual, this book is for anyone who feels torn between wanting an escape from the world’s current narrative and searching for answers to life’s biggest questions.” - Halah
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
“This memoir reads beautifully as Michelle reflects on her perceived failures as both a daughter and child of Korean lineage — grappling with all of this all while her life is transformed by her mother's illness and ultimate death. By exposing her life, insecurities, and relationships to us through her writing, the reader is left hoping that Michelle was able to find strength in that ultimate vulnerability.” - Dana
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
“The book doesn’t promote a saccharine view of the American dream, but rather a realistic portrayal into the motivations and decisions, both life-altering and mundane, that make up the immigrant experience. As one character says, ‘I know some people here think we’re trying to take over, but we just want to be a part of it. We want to have our stake. This is our home, too.’ Through hardship and heartbreak, we witness the characters claim — or sometimes give up — their stake in this home.” - Karelia
Local Bookstores to Support in the DMV:
By Alayna Hutchinson and Allie Judge
Sports have always been a way for people all over the world to find and build a community. Whether you’re an athlete or a fan, feeling like you’re part of a team working toward a common goal is something that bonds people no matter where they’re from. The Olympic Games is one of the most prominent examples of this bond as athletes from every corner of the globe compete with the support of their nation and the world. While the Tokyo Summer Olympics looked different in 2021 due to COVID restrictions, millions of people still came together both in person and virtually to watch top athletes compete on the world’s stage.
The Olympics often give people pride in their nation as they watch people from their country perform at the highest level of athletics. However, one Olympic team that competed this year stands out as it doesn’t consist of athletes representing their home country, but rather the shared experience of having to leave it.
The Refugee Olympic Team was originally established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ten athletes who had been forced to flee their home countries for reasons such as war, violence or persecution competed on that inaugural team. The IOC has stated that the intent of the Refugee Team is to represent a symbol of hope for refugees as well as to bring attention to the global refugee crisis that continues to this day.
For the 2020 Olympic Games, the Refugee Team grew to 29 athletes participating in 12 different sports. The athletes come from countries currently facing devastating conflict, including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela.
One notable member of this year’s team is Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ambassador who competed on the inaugural team in Rio in 2016. Mardini gained global attention after she and her sister courageously used their swimming skills to propel an overcrowded inflatable boat filled with other refugees to Greece after the motor stopped working. When they finally reached Greece, they traveled on foot to Germany, where they were able to find asylum in Berlin. Her story was highlighted in the 2021 short film “The Flame You Keep” by Andres Useche, which was featured in the 2020 Immigration Film Fest as a part of KAMA DC’s “Immigrants Contributions in Sports” program.
This year is also the first time that there will be a refugee team participating at the Paralympic Games, which began on August 24 in Tokyo. Six athletes from four countries are competing on the Refugee Paralympic Team in four different events. The International Paralympic Committee notes that of the 82 million refugees worldwide, more than 12 million of them live with a disability.
You can read more about members of the 2020 Refugee Olympic Team here and the Refugee Paralympic Team here. These athletes are a small fraction of the more than 82 million displaced people and refugees worldwide, many of whom struggle every day to have their needs met and their voices heard.
Telling your story can be a powerful tool for addressing challenges and creating change, especially for those who find themselves without a nation to represent them, which is why KAMA DC is dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants share their stories and skills with the community. Find out more about how you can participate in KAMA events here.
BY KAMA DC VOLUNTEERS
More than 2,500 Afghans are expected to arrive at Fort Lee (south of Richmond) as part of Operation Allies Refuge. More than 1,000 of these have already arrived in the DMV area (DC/MD/VA).
From buying gift cards to driving new arrivals to appointments to donating spare airline miles, KAMA DC volunteers have compiled a list of ways that you can support Afghans arriving in the DMV area.
KAMA DC volunteers will continue to update this document as the situation changes. Please let us know if there are other resources we should add to this page or if any information is inaccurate by emailing email@example.com.
We have created a separate guide for Afghans living in the Washington DC Metro Area who are trying to get their families and friends in Afghanistan to safety. This guide includes information for those currently in Afghanistan, and a variety of resources for Afghans who live in the DMV area, including legal resources and mental health information.
By Will Todman
When my friend Jonas signed up for a cooking class in Vienna, Austria, he was struck by how differently the organizers viewed refugees. Organizations serving refugees that he’d volunteered with before seemed to adopt a paternalistic attitude toward them, often depicting them as victims. But the classes with KAMA were different. Refugees were valued for their skills. They led classes on art, cooking and dance. They were sharing parts of their past, but also expressing their hopes and dreams for the future. In the process, they created ties with people in their new communities who they might not have met otherwise. Critically, those people expressed an eagerness to learn from immigrant teachers.
KAMA is a German acronym which roughly translates as “classes taught by asylum seekers, migrants and those who have been granted asylum.” It started in Vienna, but soon spread across several cities in Austria. Jonas went on to co-found KAMA Dresden in Germany and then proposed the idea of replicating the model in D.C. with me. We’d taken a class on refugees in the Arab world together as graduate students and were both confident we knew others who’d be interested in creating an organization like KAMA in DC.
We held the first meeting in a church office in Shaw five years ago, with thirty people gathered to explore the feasibility of starting the organization. From this gathering, about 10 of us decided to give it a go. Among the team was a Syrian translator, a French rocket scientist, a Venezuelan artist, a lawyer, a diplomat, two analysts and a student.
Our first step was scoping organizations already working with immigrants in the area. We didn’t know if something similar already existed, and we also knew that the refugee resettlement process is very different in the United States from Western Europe and didn’t want to place even more burden on refugees. After speaking with more than 60 organizations in the DMV area who expressed positive views on the potential of KAMA DC, we went for it. Although the name KAMA doesn’t have meaning in English, we wanted to maintain our link to the idea that began in Europe.
Since its inception, volunteers for KAMA DC have met once a week to organize classes, conduct community outreach and advertise what we do. We wanted to create a collaborative spirit, so we made decisions by consensus and encouraged everyone to contribute when they could.
In December 2016, we held our first class – a community organizing class taught by Vandalark Patricks, a human rights activist from Liberia. Soon after that, we held an Afro-Venezuelan dance class, a Kurdish language and culture class and a workshop on writing for resilience. It was immediately clear that we were onto something by highlighting the skills of immigrant communities in the area. Word started to spread about what we were doing, and people started reaching out to us and expressing their enthusiasm for having a platform to share their skills.
When some people asked if they could share their stories through KAMA rather than teaching a class, our immigrant storytelling night was born. We were extremely fortunate to find a home in Lapop, the bar under Lapis in Adams Morgan. Our storytelling nights quickly became the most popular event we held, and we even had to set up waitlists for tickets.
As our team and the scope of our activities grew, we decided to formalize KAMA DC, incorporate it as an organization and then apply for non-profit status. We worked with Georgetown Law Center’s non-profit legal clinic, and two law students completed our application. We also decided to formalize our volunteer structure as we realized that our style of making decisions by consensus had started to hold back our growth. We divided volunteers into three teams – classes, storytelling and promotions – and found that we could increase our programming significantly. In 2018, we held our first film screening, first panel discussion, attended festivals and forged new partnerships with businesses and organizations in the area.
When the pandemic hit, we knew that some people in immigrant communities would be especially vulnerable. We came up with a list of resources to help those who might be struggling and checked in on our past teachers and storytellers. We paused our events as well – we couldn’t do anything in person and were wary of asking too much of people during such a difficult time when Zoom fatigue was setting in.
But it quickly became apparent that moving things online created new opportunities. Since the pandemic began, we have held cooking classes, a makeup tutorial, literature workshops, storytelling nights, panel discussions, film screenings and more virtually. In 2020, we nearly doubled the number of people who took part in our classes or attended storytelling nights.
We also began a new Instagram initiative – Immigrants of the DMV – which has since gained over 1,000 followers. Every Sunday, someone from an immigrant community who lives in the DMV area takes over the account and shares whatever they want. Some share their favorite places in D.C., some share photos of their lives before they moved to the United States, others describe challenges they have overcome since moving here. We also launched this KAMA Blog in February this year as well as the first series of our Journeys podcast in May.
I’m proud that KAMA DC now serves as a platform for immigrants living in the area to share their skills and stories. People can teach classes with us, participate in storytelling nights, take over Immigrants of the DMV on Instagram or share their story on our podcast or blog. We’ve worked with immigrants from more than 40 countries around the world, and more than 2,000 people have participated in the 60+ events that we’ve held. All of this is possible because of the 24 volunteers who devote their time to KAMA every week.
As the city reopens, KAMA DC is entering an exciting new phase. Not only are we thrilled to begin holding in-person events again, but we’re also growing our team by taking on some phenomenally talented new volunteers. We can’t wait to see what the future holds!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
By BEN JAFFE
A friend and I decided to make our own walking food tour and try the same dessert from different restaurants, cafes and bakeries. We wanted to try something that was a little more unique than cupcakes, so we landed on baklava. I planned the tour and realized that we had the wonderful and unexpected benefit of the diverse D.C. food scene. While we expected that baklava at one place would be different from another, for a dish like baklava, which crosses cultures and geographic boundaries to the point that there are multiple accepted spellings, we got to try many different versions of the dessert.
All restaurants, cafes and bakeries below are immigrant-owned, founded by immigrants or feature well-known immigrant chefs. I have provided a map of my recommended walking path.
TIP: If you do this, or even a shortened version, I’d recommend not eating the full baklava. Baklava is reasonably filling and is quite the sugary dessert. Take a couple of bites and save the rest for a treat.
La Jolie Bleue
This Mediterranean café in Georgetown is easy to miss. The interior, however, is another story. Inside, behind the counter containing pastries and sandwiches, the white tile wall contains light blue window frames holding pictures of desserts, cascading plants and chalk-written menu items. Fabulous coffees and marzipan are accompanied by some less usual items including soufflé, kirsch and salep. The owners, a lovely couple from Algeria, proudly informed me that most items they made in-house, include their almond baklawa.
The day we went, two baklawas were available, pistachio and almond. Both were delicate and full of flavor, but also crisp with many layers of phyllo dough. The group was nearly split with which one we preferred, but my preference leaned toward the flavorful almond baklawa.
A short uphill walk took us to Janti Café, immediately recognizable from blue flowers climbing the outside wall. Through the entrance lies a cozy space with the usual café fair, though with some bonuses of Turkish coffee and Turkish bagels. The bagels would alone warrant a return trip to Janti, but the real treat lies upstairs at the Turkish market, where you can find traditional Turkish ingredients.
We brought a plate full of pistachio baklava to the outdoor seating area and began to dig in. The pistachio flavor came through well, strongly complemented by the syrup and a wonderfully crisp exterior. This was my second time having the baklava from Janti and, if possible, it was even better than the first time.
The longer walk from Janti to our next stop, Byblos, in Cleveland Park was an excellent way to burn off some calories and explore some neighborhoods as we took the scenic route through Dumbarton Oaks Park and Woodley Park. Beyond the door, underneath a loud blue-and-white-striped awning, Byblos carries a feeling of your usual neighborhood deli and diner with white marble tables, tile floor and large menus above the counter proclaiming Greek shawarma, falafel, gyros and much more.
As a group, we did our best to eat this round of baklava, but these pieces did not skimp on size. Large squares of baklava greeted us full of what I think were walnuts, though it may have been almonds. Whatever it was, it was delicious with wonderfully crunchy phyllo dough and amazingly chewy inner layers.
Back down to Woodley Park and past the National Zoo, Afghan Grill is a restaurant that I have found to be quite overlooked. Up a small flight of stairs lies the first restaurant of this tour with a large room boasting red walls, hardwood floors and many ornate lamps. This restaurant is actually a favorite of my grandmother, so I had been there quite a few times and love the sambosa, aushak and pumpkin buranee.
This walnut and cardamom baklava was the most unique tasting of all the baklavas on this tour, with cardamom adding an extra flavor to complement the soft and chewy dessert.
A short walk across the Duke Ellington Bridge and arguably the most well-known on the list, Mama Ayesha’s was our next stop. It certainly has the most well-known mural on its outside as Mama Ayesha Abraham herself stands in-front of the White House alongside 11 U.S. Presidents. The grandeur of the mural is matched on the inside where fountains, red cushy sofas, intricate lamps and Middle Eastern styles reign supreme. With a décor such as this, it is abundantly clear why Mama Ayesha’s is known to serve numerous ambassadors and government officials.
Their baklawa had a walnut filling, was lightly dusted with pieces of pistachio and all of the flavors mixed beautifully. It was a wonderful reminder that I really should order baklawa more often.
The last stop, Sharbat, was a nice quick walk into the heart of Adams Morgan. I felt like I must be sweating sugar at this point, but we pushed through to our final destination. This new Azerbaijani café has received a lot of attention since it opened. Aside from their honey cake, which I have been told multiple times is their best-seller, they have excellent pastries. The shorgoghal has become one of my favorites and, as its interior is only spices, I’ve convinced myself it’s healthy enough to eat multiple at a time.
Now this pakhlava I was familiar with. I had ordered it many times and knew its dark golden top with its single almond. Instead of the usual look of layers of phyllo dough, the interior was full of nuts, held together by what I can only imagine was syrup or honey or whatever goodness makes pakhlava one of the greatest desserts in the world.
I arrived home shortly after Sharbat and collapsed on the couch. My stomach, my head, my neck, I felt like everything had been reduced to the syrup and honey that makes baklava such a sugary dessert.
It was great. What is not great is that I felt like I had to choose a favorite out of all these baklavas. There was no way I could create a list in order of best to worst. I can promise anyone who visits any of these places, you will not be disappointed if you order the baklava. However, if I had to choose a favorite, it is the almond baklava at La Jolie Bleue.
If there is one thing that I believe this tour shows, it’s that baklavas, baklawas and pakhlavas are as diverse as their spelling, and I can promise you it is a very worthwhile adventure to try them all.
By Karelia Isabel Pallán
“...I hoarded secret syllables I read
until my tongue (my lengua) learned to run
where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.”
-Bilingual/Bilingüe by Rhina P. Espaillat
The poem’s words washed over me as I sat in a nook hidden behind a bookcase in D.C.’s newest museum, Planet Word. Growing up bilingual — and especially learning English at an early age — has made me particularly attuned to the power of words and language. I grew up considering which words in my two languages were very similar, or which seemed similar but had different meanings, and being frustrated at the ones that had no good translation. I grew up unraveling all the hidden meanings and unspoken cultural literacy behind language and communication. I didn’t think a fun afternoon in a museum would prompt me to analyze my upbringing and worldview, but I’ve found that the best museums often do make you reconsider and restructure your lens of understanding.
Planet Word celebrates not just words, but also the mechanics of how we speak and how we can communicate with each other: sharing ideas and stories, telling jokes and persuading, enlightening and inciting action. This museum combines the old idea of lifelong learning with new technology and design to create a true 21st century experience — you are invited to speak aloud, sing, laugh and interact digitally with the various exhibits all around you.
Like a fish noticing water for the first time, the exhibits and interactive elements encourage you to consider the mechanics and impact of something you may have taken for granted — language. Real-life examples bring the power of language to life and show how it is important in many different contexts.
It’s difficult to write a complete review of the museum without giving too much away — I want to share all the fun discoveries I made there, but I’d rather you go in person and discover these surprises for yourself. I will share, however, a little bit of the exhibits and what makes this museum so unique.
You begin at the top floor where you get a short primer on how babies acquire language. This is a useful allegory for the experience of the visitor from this point on, as, like a baby, you will be discovering how the exhibits work and respond to your gestures and voice.
You then encounter the pièce de résistance of the whole museum: the magic Word Wall, which responds and changes the script according to your answers to its prompts. It goes over the intricacies and discrepancies of the origins and influences of the English language as we know it today.
In a world languages great hall, you can interact with videos of native speakers in more than 20 languages as they not only teach you phrases in their language, but also explain to you what aspects of their language make it uniquely structured. A large, brilliant globe at the center of the room reacts with lights, pictures and sounds as you complete a module or say a certain phrase correctly.
An interactive library hosts the aforementioned hidden nook that goes through a curated selection of poems from authors around the world, as well as a speech recording booth and whimsical miniatures of famous literary scenes that light up when you speak a phrase or quote from the story.
In between the large exhibits, smaller modules in the hallways around the museum explain bite-sized aspects of the use of language.
Exhibits that kids may be drawn to include a wordplay room filled with games that use jokes, puns and idiomatic expressions, and a karaoke studio that teaches you the lyrical components used to write a hit song.
For me, one of the most impactful rooms was the very last exhibit called Words Matter. This part highlighted the sometimes darker side of language — how it can be used to discriminate, marginalize or hurt others. It featured videos from different storytellers sharing their experiences, as well as some interactive quizzes on linguistic bias. It was a good reminder that language can connect or divide depending on how you wield its power.
Ultimately, Planet Word champions language as a beneficial tool and celebrates the power of communication, through its text and context, as humanity’s defining characteristic. It succeeds in its mission to engage both children and adults in literacy and language, while reminding everyone of the importance of words.
I highly recommend visiting Planet Word soon and attending their online events. Timed-entry tickets are available on their website, though the museum can also accommodate a limited number of walk-up visitors. Tickets to both the museum and events are currently free, but you are also able to make a small donation to the museum or become an inaugural member. Learn more about Planet Word and schedule a visit at planetwordmseum.org.
KAMA DC provides a platform for immigrants to teach classes and share stories based on their skills and passions.