Practitioner Portrait: Iraqi American Reconcilation Project (IARP) and Sarah Kanan, an IARP Board Member
By Lori Imsdahl, MINN Contributor
Sarah Kanan, a twenty-four year-old Iraqi American, feels pulled between two cultures. In America, where she’s lived most of her life, Sarah feels too Iraqi. But the two times she visited Iraq — the country her family fled during the Gulf War — she felt too American. “Sometimes it feels like I don’t belong anywhere,” Sarah said recently. Nonetheless, she’s determined to bridge the gap that exists between Iraq and America — in her life and in society at large.
Sarah is an arrestingly beautiful woman with long hair, dark eyes, and an infectious smile. She holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of Minnesota — in Business Management and Marketing Education and in Design Studies and Child Psychology. She speaks Farsi, Arabic, and English. And she’s garnered private sector experience with GE Capital.
But the road there was fraught with challenges.
Sarah’s parents — Ameerah and Samir — suffered injuries in the Gulf War and resolved to take their family somewhere safer. So in 1991 they left their hometown of Basrah and trekked 160 miles northeast to a refugee camp in Ahvaz, Iran. Sarah’s life began there, on March 15, 1991.
“I spent my first months living in an environment that was filed with sorrow and sadness,” she writes in her memoir Objects for Deployment, which was published in December 2012. “Everyone [in the camp] had been forced to leave behind their home country and their families or had lost a family member or loved one in the war.”
After nine months as refugees, the Kanan family were granted Iranian immigrant status. They relocated to Qom, a city southwest of Tehran, where they lived for the next nine years.
While in Iran, Sarah’s parents struggled with the fact that Iraq was so close, less than a day’s drive away. They talked about it incessantly. Their message was clear, said Sarah: “You’re going to go back one day.”