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Afghans Flock to L.A., but Leave Their Hearts at Home

March 01, 1987|JEFFREY KRUGER | United Press International

Thousands of Afghans have fled to Southern California from their war-torn homeland seeking peace and freedom, building new careers, homes and lives.

They are adjusting to American life and are grateful for the freedom they have found. Still, they remain devoted to helping their homeland gain its freedom, said Hasan Nouri, an Afghan community leader.

"Their hearts are bleeding for their country," said Nouri, who was the main speaker at a rally held recently by the Free Afghanistan Alliance at Los Angeles City Hall.

Since 1979, Los Angeles has had the second-largest Afghan population in the United States, between 5,000 and 6,000, with most living in Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley because of relatively inexpensive housing and availability of jobs, Nouri said.

The Southern California Afghan population includes dishwashers, parking lot attendants and taxi drivers. It also includes businessmen, restaurant owners, engineers and doctors.

"Afghans love to work independently, and America seems to fit this concept very well," Nouri said. "They do just about anything you can think of."

Ahmad Moosa was a successful businessman when he fled Afghanistan in 1979--after the Communist takeover but several months before the Soviet invasion. Moosa, 56, took his wife and four children to San Diego.

"When the Communists came they killed my partner, my CPA and many people in my factory," Moosa said.

His companies included an ice-making and cold-storage export-import business, food-processing and dry-fruit exporting businesses and a container manufacturer.

"I was not suffering economically because I was a businessman," he said. "But if you see what I lost in Afghanistan, I suffered a lot because I was a very rich man there.

"At times I had 10% of the total export of that country in my hands."

Moosa said he spent his first four years in the United States trying to get established. He bought Refrigeration Equipment Co. in Los Angeles in 1983.

Although Afghans embrace the economic freedom of America, they find it harder to adjust to the social and family life, Nouri said.

Afghans are accustomed to tight-knit extended families, something Americans have abandoned. Most Afghan refugee families are not intact in America, with some relatives left behind in Afghanistan.

But whether there are five or 300 family members here, they remain close and get together every week, Nouri said.

Nouri and other Afghans who have found success in the United States give their time and money to groups helping war victims and those trying to end the war.

In addition to running a Newport Beach engineering firm, Nouri spends 40 hours a week as a volunteer member of the boards of directors of the Free Afghanistan Alliance, which lobbies Congress for military aid to the civilian fighters, and the International Medical Corps, which treats Afghan war victims.

Nouri's involvement includes an annual trip to Pakistan to work with the IMC at its emergency-care training center and to meet with the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

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