A Podcast That Unpacks What It’s Like to Be an Immigrant in America
Human-rights activist and Pakistan native Saadia Khan had been living in the United States for more than a decade when the 2016 presidential election prompted her to act against a growing wave of bigotry. “As an immigrant, and as a Muslim woman, I was just so uncomfortable with the rhetoric that was circulating in mainstream media and within political spheres,” Khan, who’s worked with a variety of United Nations organizations, says of the time. She had recently been hired to produce a podcast for a client—and decided to put what she learned from the project to use.
Two years later, Kahn debuted a weekly podcast called Immigrantly. Each episode consists of an in-depth exchange between herself and a guest whose experience challenges typical portrayals of immigrants. (Author and journalist Suketu Mehta, an Indian immigrant who grew up in Queens, also tells powerful and personal stories about immigration, which he talks about on Ep. 30 of our Time Sensitive podcast.) The show’s 13th season, focused on the theme of relationships, begins this month and introduces Shahjehan Khan (no relation), a Pakistani American Muslim and host of the post-9/11 audio series King of the World, as the season’s co-host.
A sensitive and sharp-witted interviewer, Khan’s most captivating conversations to date include those with an Afghan journalist (who remained anonymous in order to protect his identity) about life under the Taliban regime, with attorney and activist Saira Rao about social justice, and with chef Lyana Blount about veganism and Black identity. She’s also spoken with The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini, musical theater performer Dharon E. Jones, and comedian Hari Kondabolu, whose 2017 documentary, The Problem With Apu, examines The Simpsons’s controversial portrayal of South Asians.
Khan routinely engages in discussions about difficult subjects—race, multiculturalism, stereotypes, identity—to illuminate what she calls the “general messiness of being human.” Putting people into boxes, she suggests on the show’s trailer, oversimplifies reality. “We’re obsessed with defining ourselves,” she says. “Identities have quickly become labels, and vice versa. But the way I see it, human beings are much more complex, ever-evolving, and at times, contradictory.”
Having recorded more than 150 episodes, Khan is proud of the dialogues she’s put out into the world—and hopes they impact listeners as much as they have herself. “Through this podcast, I’ve learned to be part of the community more than ever before,” she says. “The idea is to challenge stories that are being told in a very reductive and one-dimensional manner, and to give three dimensionality to characters and humans. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”