FREMONT -- As Aya Okawa's fascination with Afghan culture grew in recent years, she realized that stories about the Afghan-American immigrant experience were difficult to find.

So the visual anthropology graduate student set out to change that by turning to the people she believed would be the culture's best storytellers: Afghan-Americans themselves.

Okawa then began collaborating on video interviews with Aisha Wahab, an Afghan-American community leader in Fremont, to capture the oral history of Bay Area Afghan-Americans.

"It is such a rich cultural tradition that many people might not be aware of," said Okawa, an El Cerrito resident. "It's so important for the Afghan community to have a voice that is heard in the Bay Area and beyond. Hopefully, this project is a step toward making that voice heard."

Eighteen months later, their joint video project, "Little Kabul Stories," will screen publicly for the first time at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Fremont Family Resource Center. Admission is free.

"We wanted to create a place for people to tell their own stories and the best medium I could think of was oral histories -- short interviews to let people talk about what was important to them," said Okawa. "There are so many different experiences and voices in the Afghan-American community, so we wanted a diversity of voices to be heard."

The roughly 90-minute video features Afghan-Americans sharing their memories and experiences as immigrants, or as the American-born children of immigrants. The ages of interview subjects range from those in their early 20s to a 93-year-old man, said Wahab.


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Some immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, while others moved from Afghanistan to the Bay Area as recently as two years ago.

The project was funded by grants from Cal Humanities, a nonprofit group that sponsors projects fostering cultural understanding, and the Oakland-based Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants.

The video's title refers to the Afghan neighborhood that has emerged in Fremont's Centerville district, prompting some to dub it, "Little Kabul." The moniker could just as well be applied to the entire Bay Area, which has the nation's largest concentration of Afghans outside of Afghanistan, said Wahab.

During intermission Saturday, Wahab will speak about her recent trip to Afghanistan to join an international delegation trying to foster peace and stability in the war-torn nation. The optimism and modern ways of the region's young people inspired her, she said.

"My biggest take-away was that there still is hope," she said. "Yes, Afghanistan has been at war for almost 40 years now and, in a sense, has been a destroyed country. But the youth desire to be better, to have education, to think of new ideas, to be open and travel. They were very positive but also hopeful that in the coming years they'll have peace."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

If you go
The screening of "Little Kabul Stories" will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Fremont Family Resource Center, 39155 Liberty St. A presentation and discussion on the current state of Afghanistan will be held during intermission. Information at www.littlekabulstories.org. Admission is free.