The faces behind the counters in the downtown liquor stores often mirror the anonymously glum mugs of their customers’. Something is lost when “convenience” means we’re paying extra to no longer have to engage in basic human rituals like saying hello or smiling at a stranger’s face. Across the street from the Wild Orchid; beyond the shelves stocked six-deep with fifths of Jack Daniels, bottles of Crown Royal, magnums of Gallo red wine and cooling units full of Red Bull at Discount Liquor, 600 S. Virginia St., is an 18-year-old Bangladeshi-born man named Kowsar Kahn, working hard for a shot at the American Dream.
When and how did your family come to the United States and, in particular, to Reno?
My father first came here in 1995. He basically followed my uncle, who was already here. He wanted to go to Los Angeles, but my uncle had worked in Compton and told my father horror stories about working there and being held up. So he came to Reno because it’s a much nicer, friendlier town than L.A.
In 1997, the rest of us came—my mother, my two brothers and my two sisters. I was born in Bangladesh and left when I was 6.
My father worked in a convenience store and saved up and started his own business. All the family contributed.
So this is your father’s business … How often do you work here?
Normally I don’t work every day, but right now my dad’s on vacation. He’s back home for a month so I’ve been working 4 to 5 hours a day. On weekends I work Friday and Saturday, about 8 hours. It’s just family so I don’t get any pay. When my dad’s here, I might do an hour’s worth of errands for him after school, but it’s not like I get an hourly wage to stay motivated.
And you’re still in high school?
It’s my last year, yeah. Lately, I’ve been getting about one hour of sleep a night. I usually have between 4 and 6 hours of homework a night.
What kind of classes do you have?
Right now I’ve go AP physics, anatomy, government and trigonometry/pre-calculus. I had an AP physics test and an anatomy test today. I did pretty good, I think.
What kind of GPA are we talking about here?
I have a 3.9, I think.
Where’s the other .1 percent?
[Laughs.] I think it was in phys ed. In gym. I think that I missed some classes that I didn’t get a chance to make up so the teacher gave me a “B.”
Well, I’ve got to keep my grades up—I’m planning to be a doctor one of these days. I want to go to UNR for the basics and then I’m hoping to get into UC Davis for pre-med. I want to eventually practice emergency medicine.
You won’t get a full night’s sleep until you’re 40. You know that don’t you?
I don’t mind.
What’s the best thing about Reno and how does it compare to Bangladesh?
The best thing about Reno is probably the weather. There’s a lot less rain than in Bangladesh, and here we get a taste of all four seasons.