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Our America

Immigrants from Somalia, Syria, and Mexico share their American stories  

 

By Marla Holt

It was a very challenging life, what I experienced as a child—the massacres, the dead bodies on the streets, the ongoing war, the sounds that we heard every day,” Nur Mood, coordinator of social justice initiatives and strategic relations at Hamline, says about his early years in Somalia during the civil war. “People here hear music,” he says. “We heard, all the time, the sounds of the guns. We could tell which sound belonged to which type of artillery.” 

Mood is one of many members of the Hamline community who immigrated to the U.S. from countries around the globe in search of a better life. In February, he joined hundreds at a teach-in on campus titled “Islam, Immigration, and Our Community,” which gave voice to concerns and anxiety among students, staff, and faculty regarding changes in U.S. immigration policy. 

Hamline Alumni Magazine joins the conversation by lifting up the experiences of Mood and two others who illuminate the value and contributions of immigrants to the Hamline community and our society. They share their stories, in their own words, in the hope that we will engage in meaningful dialogue with neighbors, friends, and strangers, welcoming all to the table.

 

'This is my country' 

Nur Mood was born in 1984 in Mogadishu, Somalia. When civil war broke out in 1991, his family moved around to flee Mogadishu’s most violent areas, eventually crossing into Egypt in 1998. Six years after becoming refugees, Mood’s family completed the intensive application process, making their way to Minnesota in 2004. Mood holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of St. Scholastica and will graduate from Hamline’s MBA program this summer. He became an American citizen in 2010.  

We were traumatized kids. I don’t play video games now. I don’t watch horror movies. Acting like you’re in a war zone, shooting, killing—that doesn’t make sense for me. 

It’s very sad when I see refugees portrayed as a threat. Refugees fled their homes, they left their loved ones, they fled from monsters, from horrific things. Coming here is a new life, a safe haven. 

A friend helped us get five visas for Egypt. Me, my mother, two brothers, and one sister could go, and the rest were left back home. We were one of the luckiest families in Somalia, even though we lost family members, because we fled. 

The refugee application process is hectic. We were interviewed by many agencies—the International Organization for Migration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the National Counterterrorism Center, Homeland Security. If your answers don’t match up every single time, then the whole family will lose the case, no matter how many years you’ve been through the interviews. 

After the refugee program was suspended because of 9/11, a lot of families gave up hope. We chose to keep our application in place so that we could have an opportunity to pursue a better education and a better life. 

The day I became a citizen, I felt that I 100 percent belonged here. The previous days, months, years, I thought, I live here. This is my final destination. I work, I go to school. But the day I became a citizen, I earned something that nobody can take away from me. No one can say to me, “You’re not American.” It doesn’t matter that I have an accent, that I look different, that I have a different religious and cultural background. This is my country. 

Working in higher education is something my mother never dreamed of for me as a teen who was never able to go to school. She couldn’t believe it when I got the job. She told me, “There were times I gave up hope that you may ever get a chance to go to school.” This shows her anything can happen.


Finding freedom

Muhammad Bashir Imady '19 is a dual citizen of the United States and Syria, the son of an American mother and a Syrian father. He lived in Damascus until 2012, when he moved to Minnesota. Imady is majoring in political science and Middle Eastern studies and minoring in philosophy, with plans to return to post–civil war Syria to assist in the country’s democratic rebuilding process.  

My parents met at Macalester College. They got married, had my two older sisters in America, and then went home to Syria. I was born there. 

I have mostly positive memories of growing up in Damascus, but even as a kid, I knew about political repression and how Assad’s regime operated and what it did to people. I knew Assad was a dictator, and so, as a child, I would attribute things I disliked—dirtiness in some areas, bad infrastructure, not very good internet access—to the government. 

I remember seeing the protests on TV from Daraa, in the south of Syria, where the revolution started. I also remember Assad’s famous speech, which showed the tone the government was going to take with the revolutionaries. The people thought he’d be better than others, but no. 

In ninth grade, in 2011, I went to school and lived with my dad in Amman, Jordan, where he was working. We went back and forth to Syria many, many times, and I knew the routine. But in early 2012, it was very different. We had to go through Daraa, and we’d see government forces with AK-47s on the streets and people blocking roads by breaking glass bottles and putting up rock barriers. 

I lived in Jordan for about nine months. Toward the end, my dad got scared that the Syrian government would do something to him. He was advised that he shouldn’t go back to Syria and that it was also dangerous for him to be in Jordan. He left for England, where he still lives today. 

A few months later, my mother, sisters, and I came to Minnesota. The idea was that I’d go through high school in the United States and by then maybe the war in Syria would have stopped and we’d go back. Obviously, that didn’t happen. 

My grandparents on my father’s side are still in Syria. So are two cousins and one uncle. In Damascus, they hear gun fighting and bombs, the power still goes out a lot, the economy is completely destroyed. 

Believing that Syrian refugees are a threat has a root in xenophobia and Islamophobia. What people seem to overlook is that refugees and immigrants choose to come here for freedom. I feel genuinely free in this country, which is one of the reasons why it is so dear to me. Americans should be at the forefront of supporting Syrians and all people around the world who have sacrificed so much simply in the name of liberty. 

I adhere to a mystical form of Islam called Sufism. Islam isn’t monolithic, and the issues of radicalization and fundamentalism and literalism must be understood historically and contextually. To label 1.8 billion people as being the same or as being part of a hate-filled ideology is bigoted thinking. No matter our ideologies or our ethnicities, we are all human beings. There is no real reason why we shouldn’t at least try to get along, to communicate and to understand each other, to work toward constructive solutions. 

I am proud to be from Syria. If God wills for me to stay here, I’ll stay here, but my plan is to go back after I earn a Ph.D. If the war is still going on when I finish that degree, I’ll keep studying, developing any skill I can until my eventual return. I wish the absolute best for my people, and that is why I want to synthesize the Western ideals of liberty, democracy, and progress into Syrian society.

 

Between two worlds

Ana ’20 (not her real name) came to the United States from Mexico City in 1999 when she was a year old, brought across the border by others and later reunited with her mother in California. An undocumented immigrant, Ana applied for a two-year period of deferred action from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Although the future of DACA—and therefore her own future—is uncertain, Ana is studying criminal justice and legal studies at Hamline with plans to work with marginalized communities as a way to give back to those who have helped her and her mother.

I have no memories of coming to the United States. From what I was told, it was hard for my mom, as a single mother, to get a job [in Mexico] and have someone take care of me. In the 1990s, it was becoming common to bring your children over [to the U.S.]. Family members, friends, people around the community would tell you there’s more job opportunities, exaggerating the reality of living here. My mom gave me to people [at the border], and somehow I ended up in San Diego. I was taken to my aunt, who lived in Riverside, California, and then my mom came later.

When I was about 3 years old, we moved to Minnesota. My mother worked at a restaurant. We lived with
friends who became like family. They were all in the same situation as us.

I believe education gives you power. Growing up, I didn’t like the idea of being an immigrant, being a person of color, and being female. My education is helping me feel like I can use these characteristics to an advantage because I now know I’m not the only one. I talked about being a DACA student at Hamline recently, and the girl sitting next to me started crying because she’s also a DACA student.

I feel like I’m stuck between two different worlds. I have a piece of paper that tells me I was born somewhere else, but I don’t feel connected to that place. I grew up here. This is all I know.

It’s hard to choose a career or a degree because my status doesn’t allow me to work in certain fields. I can’t be a police officer or a lawyer. It’s difficult, but I’m trying to choose a flexible career path in which I’m able to pursue my dream of helping the community. I want to be positive and be able to support other students, youth, and families.