New American Success Story: Jateen

September 10, 2014

New Americans Series

We are finishing a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Center for New Americans.  Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.

New American Success Story: Jateen, Refugee from Iraq

I met Jateen in my high-level citizenship class several months ago.  Already quite strong in his oral ability and knowledge of U.S. Civics and Geography, Jateen has benefitted from continued support and encouragement in his reading and writing in preparation for his United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization interview.  During class, we practice typical questions that may be asked at the interview concerning applicants N-400 citizenship applications including “Where are you from?  How long have you been a permanent legal resident?  Do you work?  Have you had any other jobs in the last five years?”  While I had come to know some of Jateen’s story through these class discussions, I was very happy when he agreed to be interviewed in the New American Series in order to learn more.

Jateen let me take his picture following one of our classes.

Jateen let me take his picture following one of our classes.

Read the rest of this entry »

New American Series: Iraqi Cultural Differences

September 4, 2014

New Americans Series

We are finishing a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Center for New Americans.  Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories. 

New American Series: Iraqis

Cultural Differences

When I met Ehsan, an Iraqi refugee who was resettled to the U.S. eight months ago, I smiled and extended my hand for a customary, American handshake and said “Nice to meet you.”  Ehsan smiled in return, kept his hand at his side and said, “I’m sorry. It is against my religion to shake a foreign woman’s hand.”  My first thought was “Oops! Oh, Kadie! Duh!” My second thought was “I am talking to the right man for a blog about cultural differences.”  What I actually said was “Can we talk about that more, Ehsan?” And thus began an hour and half discussion about Islam and cultural differences—mostly centered on issues concerning women—and current events in Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »

New American Series: Iraqis

August 29, 2014

We are finishing a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Center for New Americans (CNA). Upcoming blog posts will focus on the following topics: Conflict History, Cultural Differences, and New American Success Stories. Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.

New American Series: Iraqis

Conflict History

In researching the history of Iraq, I had to keep reminding myself that I was focusing on the conflict(s) that led to the resettlement of our most recent group of Iraqis to the United States. The region of Iraq has known conflict and foreign military intervention throughout its history, which is quite extensive as some of the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies originated between its two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates.  From the ancient powers of Babylon, Assyria, and Persia and later the Greeks and Romans, until its conquest by Muslim Arabs whose ruling Abbasid caliphs made Baghdad their capital of an empire that stretched from Spain across Asia to parts of India, the region has been the backdrop of major world history. Mongols invaded in 1258 and in the fifteenth century the region was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks. As part of the Ottoman Empire, the region was brought into international politics at the conclusion of World War I in 1918. Great Britain exercised imperial and political influence until Iraq became an independent political entity in 1932. The “young” Iraq experienced political instability, including several coups, and tension with neighboring countries. A successful bloodless coup d’état in July 1968 brought the Ba ‘th Party, a nationalistic and socialistic-minded party, into power and within its ranks was Saddam Hussein, who acted as Vice President. He helped bring Iraq back into good relations with many of its neighbors—excluding Israel—after its slide into almost total isolation. He proclaimed himself President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in 1979.

Saddam Hussein (photo courtsey of Wikipedia)

Saddam Hussein (photo courtsey of Wikipedia)

Saddam’s rise to power was due in large part to his leadership of Iraq’s internal security forces. Saddam’s internal security apparatus, including a newly created Presidential Guard, tolerated absolutely no dissent or opposition either from party members or ethnic groups within Iraq. Under his rule, Iraq did see economic development and political stability but at the cost of great personal freedom and civil rights. In 1980, Saddam led Iraq into a military conflict with neighboring Iran that lasted eight years. Both sides supported opposition groups within each other’s borders in attempts to destabilize each other. In 1990 he invaded Kuwait, which brought Iraq into military conflict with the United States. Due to its many military conflicts and constant need to quell any internal opposition from marginalized groups, Saddam amassed a large arsenal of weapons and military armaments. U.S. foreign policy towards Iraq and Saddam’s regime morphed from initial containment to support for a complete regime change, which was accelerated following terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. Grouping Saddam’s regime with a larger “axis of evil,” the U.S. military and coalition forces overthrew the regime in 2003. Saddam was executed December 30th, 2006.

Coalition forces set up the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) as a transitional government within Iraq and implemented several actions to increase the governmental power of the marginalized Shias and Kurds and disband its military apparatus. From early on, violent and frequent clashes occurred between coalition forces and opposition forces such as disenfranchised Ba’th leaders, Sunnis, former Iraqi army and intelligence officers, and al-Qa’ida, an international terrorist network that only started to exist within Iraq after 2003. A fledgling and weak Iraqi Transitional Government left a destabilized Iraq open to waves of sectarian violence that engulfed it. Suicide bombings, attacks against civilians, death squads, and assassinations became daily occurrences for Iraqi citizens.

Initially Sunni and Shi’I leaders preached national cohesion and played down ethnic and sectarian differences, but the cycle of sectarian killings and revenge took its tool. In 2006, the bombing of the Imam al-‘Askari Shrine, a historic Shi’I mosque, opened the floodgates to sectarian killing. Both Sunni and Shi’I militias engaged in widespread ethnic cleansing in Baghadad and elsewhere. Neighborhoods that had always had a mixed population became homogeneous.[i]   

Today as Iraq’s democratic government tries to move the country forward towards unity among its major factions, the country remains a battleground of sectarian violence, bombings, and terrorist-led attacks, the most recent being by those of Isis.

Map shows the three major sects within Iraq.  Photo courtesy of CNN.

Map shows the three major sects within Iraq. Photo courtesy of CNN.

[i] Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for Applied Linguistics. “Refugees from Iraq: Their History, Cultures, and Background Experiences” COR Center Enhanced Refugee Backgrounder No. 1. October 2008

New American Series: Somali Success Story Part II

June 3, 2014

 Today we continue Mohamud’s journey from Somalia to the United States, picking up the story when he and his family were resettled to Virginia. Part I of his story can be reached my clicking here.

 In 1996, Mohamud’s family was resettled to Virginia in the United States. As an eleven-year-old and the only member of his family to speak English, Mohamud was excited about this move.

 Mohamud shared some funny stories of cultural adjustment upon arrival. “When we reached the JFK airport I saw a ‘restroom’ sign and informed my mother that this must be where we rest. You see, I spoke British English, where a ‘restroom’ was called a ‘loo’ or ‘toilet.’ Until I graduated high school in 2002, I spoke English with a British accent.” Another story occurred during his family’s health screening. “We were in the tallest building and I was enjoying riding the elevator.” At some point he got a bit turned around in the building and started asking people “Where is the lift?”

People did not understand what I was asking and only answered me with ‘Find your parents. Where are your parents?’ After asking several people I eventually asked one man, telling him not to tell me ‘to find my parents.’ He said ‘You must be new here’ and showed me to the elevator…My mom yelled at me for messing around.            

 Mohamud’s family moved to Prince William County, Virigina where he started in grade four. “I started in grade four and that summer was with the fifth grade class. The next year I spent one semester in grade six and after break, I was placed in the next grade.” His family supported themselves through a janitorial business, and Mohamud worked alongside his family cleaning after school and late into the night.

 His family eventually moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Here he experienced culture shock again because up until now, Mohamud’s neighbors and classmates had mostly been Pakastani and Indian. “My second day in Minnesota, a man asked me ‘How old is you?’ I didn’t understand…I didn’t speak Ebonics…I had never worn baggy clothes…I carried my school books in a suitcase.” After putting himself through college while working two to three jobs, Mohamud started working for the St. Paul police department having studied law enforcement. For five years he worked as a community liaison officer on disputes between neighbors and interpreting. Eventually he was investigating and reporting on all Somali cases in St. Paul. He was the first Somali in this position. “I learned to read and write the Somali language in the U.S. I taught myself.” In this position he faced prejudices and discrimination similar to his father.


 In 2011, Mohamud moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota where he originally wanted to start a restaurant, but after talking with people in the area, he felt there was more need for home health care, and so in November 2011, Mohamud founded Alpha Sigma Health Group, Inc. “We provide waiver services, personal home health aids, companionship, and nursing. In third world countries, we may have different religions, but we have similar values. Parents have raised us so now we take care of them. We give them the rest they need.” Along with running Alpha Sigma, Mohamud helps coach a Nepali soccer team in town and volunteers as a police officer in Minnehaha County.


 As our conversation was ending, I asked Mohamud what the Sioux Falls community should know about Somali refugees. “We are human; we have a unique story to tell. We are hard-working and have persevered…persevered through refugee camps and much trauma.”

 Thank you, Mohamud, for sharing your incredible story with us and for providing your home health care service to our community.  


New American Series: Somali Success Story

May 26, 2014

We continue a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Refugee and Immigration Center (RIC). Upcoming blog posts will focus on the following topics: Conflict History, Cultural Differences, and New American Success Stories. Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.

New American Series: Somalis
Meet Mohamud Abdulle! Part 1

When I got done interviewing Mohamud and was staring at my three pages of notes, my first thought was “How am I ever going to consolidate this into one blog post?” (I couldn’t, so we will have Part 1 and the rest of the story next week as Part 2.) My second thought was “If I write everything that this man was gone through and done, who’s going to believe me?”

When I asked Mohamud about his life in Somalia, he first told me some of his father’s story, a “self-made man” as Mohamud said, who spent most of his career as a military general. His father traveled to southern Somalia when he was in his teens in search of a job and eventually, found himself in Kenya where he lied about his age in order to enlist in the British Imperial Army. According to Mohamud, his father succeeded in the British army and became one of the first Africans to become an officer in this army. When leadership and circumstances changed, Mohamud’s father found himself imprisoned, but escaped and traveled around the world working as a mercenary. Mohamud’s father went back to Somalia in the late 1960s and joined the military of the independent Somali Republic. He rose again in the ranks, but was jailed under the socialist government that came to power in the 1970s. Surprisingly he was released in 1983 and Mohamud was born in 1984. I would find out later that similar honors and prejudices would echo in Mohamud’s own life.

Fleeing the growing violence in Mogadishu, Mohamud’s family moved south, but warfare was everywhere. After losing his father, the family fled to Kenya in 1990 due to the escalating violence and anarchy. While fleeing, Mohamud became separated from his family and suffered a gun shot to his leg.

That was maybe around sunset. When I woke up [having blacked out], it was noon. I walked in no direction. I saw no civilization. I spent many cold nights. I eventually found another convoy where nice lady fed me just like I was one of her children. By this time my leg was infected. I got separated from the convoy and I was eating grass…scavenging. I was walking in circles.

I interjected at this point in his story and asked again how old he was. “Six or seven,” he replied and then shared how after so much walking and seeing no civilization, he made up his mind to end his life.

I decided to find a way to end my life the next morning. It rained that night and I was shivering, but in the morning…I feel I received a sign from God. That night I had been shivering, but I woke up warm. I woke up next to a lion! As I was stepping quietly away because I was terrified to wake him, he woke up and walked in the opposite direction. An hour later I found a settlement. I fainted and woke up in a hut to the smell and sound of my leg being burned to cleanse it of its infection. There was no pain medication.

In Liboi, Kenya, Mohamud found out his family was in a refugee camp near Mombasa, Kenya. He started traveling to them in a truck, but Kenyan police eventually stopped it, and he found himself in a prison program with adult men, where he was forced to work on farms. “Kenyan police saw a Somali as a dollar sign; it was very corrupt.” He worked in this prison program for around two and half months before running to freedom with a large group of men that were attempting to escape.

I got on a bus in Malindi, under a seat in the middle of the bus. Policemen with dogs were checking all the busses and seats. They entered my bus and were one or two seats away from me when a dog found contraband. The bus eventually pulled away and I stayed on until the next town.

Mohamud reached Mombasa where an uncle, who was a doctor and ran a clinic, recognized him and nursed him back to health. Mohamud spent three weeks with his uncle before reuniting with his family. His family eventually traveled to Ethiopia where Mohamud attended a private English school and advanced in English, math, and science.

Check in next week to read about Mohamud’s adventures in the U.S.

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