By Beatrice Kahn
The American Dream—the epitome of American immigration—continues to beckon those afar to the United States. Abdi Nor Iftin, author of the memoir Call Me American, dreamt of America ever since he saw it on a movie screen in Mogadishu, Somalia.
On Friday, January 31st, Iftin visited Beaverton High School to discuss his memoir. It was moving to hear a man who struggled to survive in a warzone and spent a year in Kenyan refugee camps speak about his experiences.
The memoir offered a glimpse into warlord-controlled Somalia. Iftin attended madrasa (Islamic school) until he memorized the entire Koran. To get clean water, Iftin and his brother walked through streets lined with sharpshooters, holding hands to stick together. This is a sharp contrast from our school, where we learn English, Math, Social Studies, and can drive ourselves to school.
Iftin escaped war-ridden Somalia through Kenya, where he became an internationally recognized refugee by the United Nations. If Iftin were asked what he wanted to be as an adult, he would have said he only wanted his freedom. But Kenya’s freedom was not the end goal.
Through the US Visa lottery, Iftin was allowed entrance, and a family in Maine took him in. At 29 years old, his first meal in America was at a gas station in rural Maine. His first experience with a microwave involved putting a tub of ice cream inside and setting the time for an hour. America takes some getting used to, especially when the only culture he experienced was dramatized. The American life depicted in a movie shack with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator in Mogadishu differed from the reality of gas stations and microwaves.
In mid-January, Iftin became an American citizen. When asked about the upcoming election, he responded, “I feel like I have a voice.” A voice—which we take for granted in the land of the free—is valuable. And he’s strengthening his voice as he’s working on his second book.
Now, Iftin is traveling around the United States, promoting his memoir and embodying the American Dream as an American citizen.
Photo courtesy of Beatrice Kahn. Hummer reporters Beatrice and Eleanor Kahn stand with author Abdi Nor Iftin in the MD Lecture Hall.