By Saladi Shebule
I came to Buffalo in the summer of 2004 as a refugee, originally from Somalia. When I arrived, I found a warm, welcoming community that helped me transform from a shy, uneducated young boy into a college graduate and a proud Buffalonian.
I love this country and this city, but for the first time in my more than a decade here, I am extremely concerned. The country that took me in and I have believed in for so long is now becoming reminiscent of the place I ran away from.
Everyone I know in the Somali community was stunned by Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States and we remain confused and paralyzed by his recent policies that target our community and our families.
Many people I know – longtime, productive Buffalo residents – are terrified that they will not be able to see their family members, many of whom are still stuck in refugee camps. They are afraid to leave the United States because they fear that they will not be let back in and that their family members will not be allowed to settle here.
Many within my community, like myself, spent more than a decade in a refugee camp, waiting to complete a multistep interview process and answering complicated and often unusual questions about ourselves, in hopes of coming to America for a better life.
The United States always seemed to offer a place of refuge and safety for our community. This dream of refuge is part of the allure and the reason refugees from across the world hope to come to the United States. It is the reason we willingly submitted to long waits within the not-so-ideal living conditions found within refugee camps and completed a multistep interview process.
The American promise of welcoming all religions, the dream of diversity and the idea of the “self-made man” hooked us and made us believe and hope for a better life in the United States.
Today, that promise has diminished. We worry that our welcome in the United States is no longer as enthusiastic. We worry that people will judge our community more quickly because of our clothing, our accents, our head scarves or our nationalities.
My friends, family and I are encouraged by the spontaneous peaceful protests that are taking place around the country. We feel grateful that the protesters understand our plight and are stepping in to help us. They see us as human beings who have suffered, not as potential threats because of the place we originated from.
This country has taught me the messiness of democracy. I respect and am impressed by the people’s right to choose in this country. I revere the U.S. Constitution and marvel at how it guards this country against tyranny, while protecting individual rights. The Founding Fathers trusted the office of the president and valued the people of this country’s intellect and ability to choose their leader, and so must I. But I am wary.
My wife and I have two young, beautiful daughters. I feel blessed knowing that my daughters will never know the fear of statelessness that I experienced prior to resettling in this country. They will never spend a day searching for water, worrying about making the day’s rations feed the entire family or running for safety from shots fired by heavy machine guns. They are Americans, as am I.
Yet I am not sure what that means anymore, to be an American. I am glad my daughters are too young to ask me questions about what is happening in this country today. I would not know how to answer.