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By Gabriel Rom

For the Bukharian community in Queens, questions of tradition, heritage and assimilation are never far from the surface.

On a rainy night last week at The Bukharian Teen Lounge in Forest Hills, a group of 25 high schoolers joked in both Russian and English, moving effortlessly between the two.

They had gathered to hear career advice from three Bukharian young professionals who had successfully navigated the dual worlds of Bukharia and America.

According to Manashe Khaimov, a program director at the lounge, the event presented the kids, all of whom attend public school, with a unique opportunity.

“We want to integrate these children into wider American culture without them losing sight of their heritage,” he said.

“I didn’t have access to programs like this when I was younger—people I could speak to in Russian and English. People who could guide me.” he added. “But it’s now something I can give to others.”

The lounge, a full program of the JCCA, is a comprehensive after-school program with Russian-speaking staff members, allowing the program to be culturally sensitive to the specific needs of youth from the Bukharian community.

Khaimov introduced the three panelists, all of whom had a message that was as simple as it was bold: Embrace the future.

Mark Kandkhorov, born in Tajikistan, is now a lawyer and a member of Community Board 6, which covers the neighborhoods of Forest Hills and Rego Park.

Kandkhorov recalled a rough childhood. Kandkhorov said he faced a crisis of identity, having to overcome limited resources, lack of language skills and culture shock. Eventually he went on to study at St. John’s University for undergraduate and law school, where he blossomed. When he asked how many of the kids wanted to be a lawyer, no hands went up.

“Excellent,” he said.

There was a serious point to Kandkhorov’s joke.

Having been raised in an immigrant Jewish home, Kandkhorov said he was faced with certain career expectations—either law or medicine—that he felt were stifling.

Betty Yusupov, a litigation attorney, said she developed the courage to succeed from values instilled in her at home.

“As a Bukharian female it certainly can be hard, but I had the good fortune of being raised by parents who pushed education,” Yusupov said. She leaned forward and pointed towards the young adults in front of her.

“Your parents have been through what you have been through. They’ve felt lost, too.”

“Explore other professions,” she added. “Read up on the most-wanted jobs over the next 10 years. Right now you’re young, and young people create things. There are kids not much older than you who are doing incredible things in Silicon Valley.” Alex Cohen a lawyer, agreed.

Dina Aminova, a high-school senior, looked at the panelists as sources of inspiration.

“When you’re in high school you don’t know what you want to be–hearing all this and learning what others have gone through, well, it makes me want to be like them,” she said.

All three panelists had a message: it’s okay to push boundaries, just don’t forget who you are and where you come from.

“Round yourself out. Be flexible,” Kandkhorov said. “Consider philosophy or economics. You don’t only have one path in life, thank God.”

In the audience one student turned to his particularly chatty companion.

“Shush!” he barked. “This is important.”

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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