BY SAFIYO MOHAMED
When I was in Africa, my dream since I was young was that one day I would get to live in America because I knew my soul was here, although my body wasn’t. This was the place which I always considered home even though I had never been. America was like a paradise, and in my mind, it was my ultimate destination. Everyone I knew said the same thing: to have a better life, you need to go to America.
We left Somalia because there was no peace, but life moving around Africa was difficult because there was no work. Most of the people were jobless. Even if we managed to finish university, there was a shortage of work opportunities, especially in Somalia because the only people hired were those that had a family connection. When there is no work, there is no money. When there’s no money, there is little food, crowded living situations, and no school. People dreamed of an easier life. People wanted to get out and go somewhere with equal opportunities, where you don’t need family connections in order to get a job. We believed that place to be the United States, although many went to Europe. We knew if we arrived in America, we would have to work hard, but we wanted to work. In Europe people don’t always work; they get assistance or welfare, but it’s not freedom like here in the U.S. To survive in the U.S. would be a challenge, but we knew this is a country of opportunities.
After long years of waiting, I finally arrived in Minnesota, my dream. The first two things that came to my mind, like for most people new to the country, were school and work. We had the opportunity of enrolling in free education for English and earning a GED. That feels like a privilege because free education is not available everywhere. But we have a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders. We need to support our families and pay our own bills, so we need to work hard and go to school at the same time. Many people have more than one job, and still, it is not enough. Often these jobs are minimum wage and are inadequate for supporting households. Most of the people quit school and just work since there’s not enough hours in a day to earn enough money. They work and work. You can see people who have been in the U.S. for a long time still needing interpreters for doctor appointments and everyday events because they couldn’t find the time to go to school to study English since they are working all the time to support their families.
Because of this financial stress, families break up. Typically, in Somali culture it is the mother who is taking care of the kids, but here everyone needs and is expected to work. Mothers can’t do it all, but they are required to. So mothers always lose themselves in between the endless tasks demanded of them. Most don’t have time for school themselves, leaving the children born here as the interpreters for the family. So these kids can take advantage of their mothers’ language barriers and exhausting work load, sometimes telling their mothers a different story when any trouble arises. These kids can get into a lot of trouble with gangs and drugs and may drop out of school. This is heartbreaking, but it is the reality. Maybe every immigrant family has this risk.
Stress on the immigrant family structure is common in the U.S. But in Somalia, it was the strength of the family and clan connections that offered employment opportunities. In the U.S., we expected to have an equal opportunity for jobs. But it turned out that color, gender, and age can limit your chances. Living the American Dream has actually turned out to be running a “rat race.” There’s always a little less for us than what we had expected.