My American dream – World Refugee Day 2018

American dream – Jessica and Hasan

Fayetteville, Arakansas – a community volunteer shares her American dream in honor of World Refugee Day 2018.

Eca. Rehema. Majidi. Suad. Hasan. These are the names that came to mind when I was asked to write about a refugee I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know.

But I can’t pick just one because that would only be a small part of the story. Each one of these people has impacted my life. They have all had a hand in making me a better person.

The first time I met Eca was at XNA regional airport when he and his family were arriving to their new home in Northwest Arkansas. It was a rainy Valentine’s Day just weeks after the first refugee travel ban. Aca and his family felt the consequence of this ban – they were told they wouldn’t be able to come to the US, but in the end they were able to come at the last minute. I remember Eca’s arrival clear as day. At the time I was the community outreach intern for Canopy NWA, a local resettlement agency. While we were standing outside the arrival gate waiting for the Congolese family, I kept flashing back to when I volunteered in a refugee camp. I remember the hope of a new life that the refugees there carried with them. Now, here I was in Northwest Arkansas witnessing the beginning of a new life for Eca and his family, and I was overcome by my emotions. I was witnessing the American dream first hand.

Rehema and Majidi are a Congolese couple who came to Northwest Arkansas with their two beautiful children and the hope to rewrite their future. In their first year in America, they started their own business called Swahili Shoes. Majidi also met an Arkansas congressman and joined the board of Canopy NWA, the organization that helped his family. Last fall, my aunt and mom came to Fayetteville and I took them to Majidi and Rehema’s to support their business and buy some hand-made sandals. We sat and talked for about an hour, and it was amazing to see my aunt, who had never met a refugee before, bond so intimately with this family.

In my eyes Majidi and Rehema’s perseverance and dedication embody the American dream.

Suad came to the US from Iraq with her five children with a hope of safety and a life free of violence. In Iraq, two of her children were victims of a suicide bomber’s attack. Her daughter Miriam suffered hearing loss and her son Hasan had damage to his eye. Suad is resilient. She has persevered through hardships I could never imagine. I studied Arabic for two years and I was able to practice my speaking skills with Suad. In October of last year, Suad volunteered to make homemade Iraqi bread for a Canopy event. She gave her time so Canopy could support other families to start new lives. Because of Suad’s bravery, her children are safe. Miriam is getting help for her hearing loss and learning sign language. Hasan was able to have surgery on his eye. I like to think she is seeing her dreams lived out through them.

Hasan is one of my dearest friends. When I first met Hasan, he told me he really needed to learn English to pass the written driver’s test and get his driver’s license. A mere two months later, Hasan’s English had improved immensely – I would try to speak broken Arabic with him, and he would say, “We can speak in English.” I was amazed by how determined he was. I had been studying Arabic for two and a half years and struggling, and Hasan was fluent in English after just a few months! Hasan took his written driver’s test and passed. In April of 2018 I took Hasan to take his practical driver’s test and he used my car for the exam. He passed with flying colors and the test administer told him he was a really good driver. During his driving test, my brake hose broke which made it very hard to stop the car. Hasan used to be a mechanic and told me what I needed to do to fix it. He then offered me his family’s car until I could get mine fixed. Hasan is kind and cares deeply for his friends. On my birthday he came out of his way to give me a gift and I thought to myself how grateful I was for his friendship. I feel really lucky to have been able to play a small part in helping him achieve his dreams.

Eca. Rehema. Majidi. Suad. Hasan. These people have made my life more full and my community greater.

They embody my American dream because I dream of an America that welcomes those seeking refuge with open arms. An America that stands for everyone’s right to an American dream. The base of the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” America has always been a safe haven for those seeking refuge from persecution, and it is our responsibility to uphold our country’s founding values. For my dear friends who have started pursuing their own American dreams in Northwest Arkansas and for millions of others around the world dreaming of freedom and safety, I will always stand firmly for welcome and keep pursuing my American dream.

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Jessica Garross
Jessica is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, where she co-founded a student organization called Students for Refugees. This organization assists in advocating for and resettling refugees by utilizing university resources. Jessica was the community outreach intern at Canopy Northwest Arkansas and continues volunteering with Canopy today.