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Andy Shallal: 'I Didn't Have to Come Here, I Chose to Come Here'

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Andy Shallal, restaurant owner, poet and Muslim-American.

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There is a saying that laughter is good for the soul.

When we interviewed Iraqi-American Andy Shallal at his Washington, D.C. restaurant, we did more laughing than talking.

Until the conversation turned to freedom of expression.

Shallal, 60, was born in Iraq. In 1966, his father, a diplomat, was assigned to the United States. Two years later, when Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq, Shallal's father was out of political favor.

The family could no longer return to their homeland.

Andy Shallal
Andy Shallal

Shallal attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and medical school at Howard University. He worked awhile as a researcher in medical immunology at the National Institute of Health.

His passions -- food, friends and expression -- led him to open his restaurant called Busboys and Poets, in 2005. There, customers can eat, read, watch performances and express their political views freely. At Busboys and Poets, his customers include activists against the Iraqi War, as well as visiting celebrities.

Shallal expresses himself artistically in many way. At Busboys and Poets hangs a civil rights mural called Peace in the Struggle Wall. Shallal is the painter. He holds leadership positions in numerous peace movement organizations. Among them are Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, created prior to the 2003 invasion, and the Peace Cafe, which seeks to promote Arab-Jewish dialogue.

As you listen to his story, you might find your thoughts and struggles echoed in his words.

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Artists. Public servants. Immigrants. Philosophers. Innovators. One who stuttered is now a public speaker. Another paints a canvas that breathes and moves. This is the new look of "People in America" -- a VOA Learning English video series that updates our earlier historical biographies.

Our People in America (PIA) tells the stories of living Americans from all corners of the globe. They might surprise you with their thoughts and philosophies. And how they personify democracy, self-sufficiency, expression and community.

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