Editor's Note: On May 10, Iran Davar Ardalan, a senior producer at NPR, will be the recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in New York. The annual award is given to "American citizens who have distinguished themselves within their own ethnic groups while exemplifying the values of the American way of life," according to the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations. Ardalan's grandfather traveled from Iran and arrived on Ellis Island in 1919.
My family's love affair with America blossomed at Harlem Hospital in 1927. That's when my grandmother Helen Jeffreys first set eyes on my grandfather Abol Ghassem Bakhtiar. Helen was a nurse at the nursing school affiliated with Harlem Hospital, and Abol was a doctor on the surgical staff.
Abol took Helen on a number of dates to Coney Island and mesmerized her with his poetry readings from the Shahnameh, a 10th century epic recorded by Persian poet Ferdowsi. The Shahnameh chronicles the journey of a nation seeking justice and yearning for freedom of expression, with mythical and pre-Islamic historical rulers as its heroes and heroines. But it wasn't just the poetry Helen fell in love with; it was Abol's resilience, his resolve and his fortitude. He had made the great journey to the shores of America from a remote village near the legendary Bakhtiari tribe in Iran to realize his dream of becoming a physician
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