Four Aberdeen residents, all immigrants to this country, were interviewed for the Aberdeen University Civic Symphony performance of American Visions, Ellis Island Dreamers in February 2018.
Each person shared the story of their journey to the United States in the post-Ellis Island era of immigration. They came from different parts of the world, and took separate and unique paths to get here, yet they all now call Aberdeen 'home'. Below is one of these stories:
"I lived with my mother in Mogadishu. I was the last child at home. I was an 18-year-old student walking home from school one day in 2003 after having gone to the store for my mother. I was stopped by two men. They were on either side of me, one with a gun and the other with a heavy walking stick.
They questioned me. They asked what I was carrying, and demanded that I give them everything. I handed them the heavy flour and sugar and was emptying my pockets with the gun to my head, when I hit at his arm and ran and ran. When I got home to my mother, she asked where the flour and sugar was and I told her about the War Lords. I left the next day. My mother made me go. Somalia was never safe. There was no government. The War Lords were in charge. And they would be after me.
It took me a month and 15 days to travel the 700 miles to Nairobi. I rode on the top of a truck in the heat. I didn’t ever mind that. I was going to safety. The truck was delivering goats and we had to stop every other day to let them graze. I helped put them in and out of the truck. At the border, I had to get another ride. When I got to Nairobi, I went to my Uncle who was a professor of Political Science. We contacted my eldest brother who lives in London and he sent money monthly. I restarted my schooling, learning Swahili and English in addition to my Somali and Arabic. All schooling in Kenya after elementary is in English. I started at the Salvation Army School and continued in college and University, getting the equivalent of straight A+ or honors. I have a degree in Poli-Sci and a Masters in Government, finishing in 2009.
Meanwhile, I got a Certificate as an Asylum Seeker. It had taken me 2-3 years to prove who I am with a photo ID. Paperwork went back and forth to Geneva and the High Office for Refugees, but finally the U.S. approved and told me I would leave next Thursday! With less than a week to go, CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) told me I needed more security clearance. This was 2009. I checked in with them once a year. “Pending” is the only word you’re gonna get. Security Clearance pending. They had already asked me questions every week, every month, for the years before, checking my story, checking everyone I knew, everyone they knew and they knew, and so on. Four more years went by. I gave up completely. I applied for 2 jobs. I worked for the UN in Nairobi. Then I met a U.S. citizen who worked for the Security Council for Somalia in Kenya. He offered me a good-paying job to help solve a problem in Northern Somalia between 2 groups who were arguing and fighting. This job was with an NGO, Mercy Corps. Going back to Somalia, maybe making enemies. Maybe one day getting an IED under my car, and I cannot get away from Kenya and leave if they are after me. No place to go. Yet the money is good. And UN jobs come and go. Then, on a Thursday, I get a phone call. Security Clearance is ok. Tomorrow at 5 pm, be at the bus stop to be held at a house for 12 hours before the flight. It is November, 2013. I call the U.S. Security Council man twice, and in the second phone call I decline the job. I am going, no matter how hard I have to work. I am going to America.
I fly through Geneva to Chicago and am picked up by Fred, my volunteer caseworker who brings me to Sioux Falls. He helps me to get my Social Security Card and Driver’s License. With my saved money, I buy a car. I drive, I work quality control in a warehouse, I remodel houses until I fall from a ladder and break my toe.
Now I am in Aberdeen where I have a store since May and a restaurant since August with two partners. I work. I am only 34 but I save for retirement. I work hard. I want to contribute something to the world. I hope to use my education to help women and the elderly, wherever in the world they struggle to be equal."