By: Luis Arjona Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Have you ever had moments in life when you can have a chat with someone who makes you take a step back and leaves you inspired? Those moments are beautiful and humbling. Meeting people who go above and beyond by making the world a better, more aware place is a breath of fresh air.
I had the chance to speak with Saherish Surani. If the name sounds familiar, you may have seen the work she and her sisters do for the community under the company umbrella iConquer. The Surani sisters work to improve awareness of childhood obesity after Corpus Christi was named the "fattest" city in America. Their work is gauged towards teaching children, ranging from three to seven years old, about obesity, diabetes, and healthier habits. They have reached over 36,000 students, and hold events such as the Glow Run and Benefit Golf Tournaments around the Coastal Bend.
Saherish Surani graduated from Veterans Memorial High School in 2017, and is now completing her final year at Tufts University. During her junior year, Surani took on a project to document and tell the stories of 10 undocumented and first-generation Americans in novel form. Titled The Stories of U.S., Surani gives her interviewees a voice and platform to be heard and share their experiences.
"The goal of the book [project] was to open my ears and learn and listen from the people who make up our community," Surani says. “I think that recently, with the media and the political climate we live in today, there are always headlines. Still, we don't see the people, the faces, or the stories behind those headlines. So, I wanted to make undocumented immigrants and first-generation Americans a little more human to the reader's eyes.”
Inspired by her parents' journey as they immigrated to the United States, Surani took it upon herself to interview 36 undocumented immigrants and first-generation Americans from several time zones. She made sure to be inclusive of different countries, backgrounds, ages, and circumstances to accurately provide a well-researched book that would shed light on this topic. "Not all immigrants are from Latin America," says Surani. She made it a point to use this opportunity as a teaching moment and spread empathy and perspective.
Surani's “Aha Moment” came at a traffic stop. While in the car, she had the realization (that shows an enviable degree of empathy), “What would happen if any of us were undocumented?” The stop would become more than a routine warning and call for ICE involvement, which would upend their lives. Her concern for refugees and immigrants, paired with her encounter with law enforcement, led Surani to her newest project.
The Stories of U.S. was published by New Degree Press in December of 2019. The book was a #1 Bestseller (Emigration and Immigration category) and #1 New Release (in the Emigration and Immigration category and Children's Social Activists Biography category). Surani described the writing and publishing process as a whirlwind of work. She credits having a regular schedule and following a checklist to keep her on track and focused on her goals. Upon the release of her book, Surani was invited to the Seattle Public Library to promote her project.
In December 2020, look for the second edition of The Stories of U.S., released in hardcover with a new cover design, a guest introduction, and an extended chapter covering Surani's personal life a bit more. We are excited to see what the future has in store for Saherish Surani!