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A First-Person Account Of An Local, Immigrant Somali Family
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October 13, 2011
As adolescents, growing up in the late 1970s, Migane Nur and Yusur Egge identified themselves as ambitious and earnest. Yusur worked at a Greek restaurant in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti, as a chef. While there, she sent money to her mother and siblings in her native northern Somalia, helping to provide them with food and shelter. Migane was a straight-A student. He studied aerospace at the prestigious Sheikh Secondary School in Hargeisa, the capital of northern Somalia – now the independent nation of Somaliland -- while also working for the Somali Air Force.
Memories of growing up in Somalia always bring smiles to their faces. My father, Migane Nur, spoke of that era, when Somalia had a promising future and, most of all, a lush, green environment.
“It was very green. We were very happy. The water was on the ground and not underground, there were streams, it was a lovely place to live. Sometimes, when you go to a valley, you can smell fruits coming out of that valley.”
But all that would change in 1983, when a civil war broke out in Somalia. People of the North were persecuted by the government in Mogadishu for their clan bloodlines. My parents belong to the Isaak clan of northern Somalia. Many of our relatives were killed and tortured. My father left Somalia in 1981 for the United States, where he received political asylum. My mother followed six years later, bringing my older sister and brother with them. Two years later, I was born in Baltimore.
My father talked about what it was like when he first came to the States and made a phone call to a friend.
“I came to America, November 3rd, 1981, I didn’t know what it look, what the people look like, what they would do, I was scared. I have 90 dollars in my pocket when I landed. I called him in San Antonio and that was the sweetest sound I have ever hear.”
In addition to a massive cultural shock, they also endured a drastic climate change. In Somalia, the weather is very hot and dry. Moving to the United States mid-November was a shock, to say the least.
My mother spoke about her first experience with snow.
“Our first night here was good, we arrived safely. In the morning, we woke up to ice filling our windows. It was strange, we went outside to feel it, because we had never seen anything like it, it was a bit frightening.”
Like any new experience, my family began our new life here from the ground up. The beginning was challenging. My parents searched for jobs and focused on how they would raise a family, since my mother came here with two small children and would have three more of us. This tested our resolve and showed how difficulties can be made into opportunities, with hard work. The hardest test was finding a balance between the life they left in Somalia and the life they were now living here in the States.
“First of all, I came to a country that was unfamiliar in every way. I actually contemplated going back, but then the fight broke out and there was nowhere to go.”
My parents found themselves living between two realities. On one side, they believed in their Somali and Islamic culture and wanted to raise their children with a sense of pride. And on the other hand, my father said we’re American citizens and wanted us to embrace the new culture.
“No matter where you come from, the first generation want their children to behave like them and to have their culture, no matter if you come from Ireland or Egypt or Middle East or anywhere in the world. It is a very difficult situation, because on one hand, you brought up in another country, in another culture, and here is your family and your children born here, so, you’re always in conflict. We have to really assimilate and live like other Americans, because after all, we are all American, here right now.”
Although they have incorporated the American lifestyle, they’ve also brought their own flavor, a Somali flavor, in which they take great pride. They did this through keeping their native tongue as the primary language of the house. My parents explained.
“The rules were, when they are outside they can speak English, but in my house, they speak Somali and that’s how it been, even until now they know those are the rules.
“In our house, we speak Somali, that’s what we chose; outside we speak English.”
Our family is now flourishing. We are very much American, and always on the go. My siblings and I take classes’ full-time and work part-time. We live in the present, focusing on the daily challenges of life, leaving the pain of the past barely a memory.
I’m Samsam Nur, reporting in Baltimore, for 88-1, WYPR.
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