The Asylum Seeker’s Daughter

Tamara Syed
3 min readFeb 2, 2017


I grew up in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1990s and 2000s. With a brief stint in Amman, Jordan and Tampa, Florida in the mid 1990s. We always made our way back to the Valley, somehow. My family was middle class and both of my parents had respectable jobs. My mom was a Respiratory Therapist and my dad worked for the Saudi Arabian Embassy.

Despite popular belief, I like to think that I don’t have a valley girl accent but I can’t say the same for some of my friends.

(I hate shopping, f.y.i.)

I went to a predominantly Asian-American Charter school in the suburban town of Granada Hills.

Granada Hills Charter High School. I remember walking past this stadium to get to the girl’s locker room and right in front of those doors a bird pooped on my friend’s hand while she was holding it out for a high five. Photo by Morris via

Upper middle class students made up about 70% of the school’s population — brightly colored Abercrombie & Fitch polos carefully matched their Hudson jeans. Every party was at a mini mansion in Porter Ranch overflowing with liquor stolen from unassuming parents’ wine cellars and bar rooms.

Located in the small, suburban town of Granada Hills about 4,000 students called this school home for four years. The small town was far from the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills or Central Los Angeles. Although never too far from the scandals of leaked semi-nude pictures of a faculty member and whispers of student-teacher relationships.

Oh, and our most noted alumni is John Elway. We named our football stadium after him. (Our football team was less than spectacular, losing more games than I could count.)

John Elway at the naming ceremony in 1998. Photo via Getty Images.

I was a member of the student-run paper, The Plaid Press. My journalism teacher liked to pick favorites and referred to myself and majority of the staff as “the other side of the class.”

Sample of my most riveting work at The Plaid Press.

My father immigrated to the U.S. as an asylum seeker during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He lived in a small village called Sylhet and attended Madan Mohan College. A political activist and freedom fighter he was elected as the President and Secretary General of the Bangladesh Student Union in the Sylhet District in 1972.

My father’s commute to school. He would ride on a motorcycle, despite my grandmother’s dissapproval.

He followed the teachings of the Bengali Liberation Movement leader — Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Locally known as Bangabandhu, which translates to “Friend of Bengal.”

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman giving a speech in 1971. Image via Wikipedia.

In the early morning hours of August 15, 1975 Bangabandhu was assassinated during a military coup along with all, but two daughters, of his family.

His daughter, Sheikh Hasina now serves as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Soon after the assassination, the military regime targeted various members of Bangabandhu’s political party and intellectual leaders. My father fled the country, spending over two hours in Immigration court pleading his case. He was granted asylum that same year.



Tamara Syed