I spent much of this Election Day touring the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol with my good friends Zahed and Sony and their three young children. Zahed and Sony became U.S. citizens earlier this year and, after our tour, returned to their polling place in suburban Maryland to vote for the first time.
One thing that has kept me optimistic about our country is my involvement with immigrant families. I've posted before about my two Nepali families: Bhawana and Nimesh (who live with me) and Laxmi, Rahel and Ramesh, with whom I frequently stayed when they lived in Pokhara. I see them frequently now that they live in Washington.
My Bangladeshi Family
Zahed and Sony also are treasured friends. Their story is an example of what hard-working immigrants can still achieve here despite how tarnished the "American Dream" has become today.
Zahed earned a Master's degree in Bangladesh, where he had a decent white-collar job and relatively good prospects. But a friend suggested he try for the Diversity Lottery under which the State Department makes 55,000 permanent resident visas ("green cards") available to residents of countries deemed to have low rates of immigration to the U.S. (like Nepal and Bangladesh).
He won a lottery visa and, almost simultaneously, he won Sony as a wife in an arranged marriage. (Zahed and Sony met for the first time on their wedding day.) A few months later, Zahed and a pregnant Sony left their families behind in Bangladesh and boarded a plane to the U.S.
They started out in Silver Spring, a Maryland suburb, where Zahed first worked as a clerk in a nutritional supplements store. He later took a job at a suburban hospital, first as a cafeteria worker and later in the material handling department. There, he got health insurance, eagerly sought by most job seekers today, immigrant and native born. Later -- after I taught him how to drive :-) -- he took a second job as a pizza delivery driver at night.
I once asked Zahed how he felt working two unskilled jobs here, in light of his background and education. He answered without hesitation: "It's worth it because I know my children have better prospects here, no matter what happens to me."
Zahed and Sony were renting an apartment in Silver Springs when the financial and real estate bubble burst in 2008. Zahed patiently worked with real estate agents and finally found a real bargain in a short-sale house in the Montgomery Village suburb. He has spent the past year taking a course to prepare him for a skilled technology career.
So now, after five years in America, Zahed and Sony are U.S. citizens, with three young children, a house and a car. Zahed's business prospects are good, and Sony hopes to start a career when her parents get visitors' visas and can spend a year or more living with them in Maryland.
I've told the Zahed/Sony account at some length because I like the story. It reassures me that the immigrant success experienced by my Swiss father and my Irish grandparents on my mother's side is still part of the American narrative.
Our Election Day Tour
So, I was delighted to help Zahed and Sony celebrate their first Election Day by touring the Library of Congress and the U.S. Capitol. We took a tour I discovered for the first time when I spent several days in a downtown hotel during a blizzard in the winter of 2010-'11.
We started at the Library of Congress, which is separated from the U.S. Capitol by the large plaza shown in the photo at the top of this post. Here we are, ready to enter the Library of Congress: