Hot tamale

Zarif Khan immigrated to the U.S. and ended up in Sheridan.

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation and the Wyoming Arts Council will host a talk by University of Iowa jazz professor John Rapson on Thursday. Rapson is the composer of “Hot Tamale Louie,” a music and multimedia performance celebrating the life of Zarif Khan, an Afghan American entrepreneur in early Sheridan. 

The talk is free and open to the public, and will begin at 3 p.m. at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center.

Zarif Khan left his native Afghanistan as a young man in 1907, landing in Seattle. After exploring the American West, he chose to settle in Sheridan. He took over a business selling tamales, also inheriting the previous owner’s moniker of “Hot Tamale Louie.” 

Khan sought American citizenship and was naturalized in 1925, only to have his status stripped away again because of xenophobic federal laws. It would take another 30 years for Khan to regain his citizenship. In the meantime, he became a local fixture in Sheridan and a legend back in his home John Rapson first learned of Khan’s story in a 2016 article in the New Yorker magazine. Inspired, he collaborated with other scholars, artists and musicians to create the powerful multimedia performance “Hot Tamale Louie.” 

During his talk at Heart Mountain, Rapson will discuss Khan’s life, his immigration to America, and his battle for U.S. citizenship.

On Thursday, at 7 p.m. at the Powell High School Auditorium, Rapson will lead a performance of “Hot Tamale Louie.” The Wyoming Arts Council, with support from WESTAF, the Wyoming Humanities Council and the Park County Arts Council, is pleased to present this free event.

Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation executive director Dakota Russell says Khan’s story shares similarities with the stories of Japanese immigrants in the early 20th century. 

“Immigration policy at that time specifically targeted Asians,” Russell said. “Zarif Khan ran afoul of the same discriminatory laws that kept Japanese immigrants from becoming citizens and aided in their disenfranchisement during World War II.”

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