I’m sharing my story to let people see how immigrants experience difficult situations. My family is from Baghdad. It is the capital city in Iraq, and it is actually beautiful. But sometimes it is not safe to live there, especially when there is war, like when my family lived there. So my parents decided to apply to come to the United States when I was 11 years old.
My dad had been working in a job with some Americans. Those Americans trusted him and helped him apply to move to the United States. They wanted him to have a better life. So they applied for him to come to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa. It took three to five years to finish the process before we could move to the United States. My father made my family and me aware that the process could take a long time.
I found out we had been accepted to move to America when my family had a meeting with some government officials. I don’t remember having any strong feelings when I first heard the news, because I was so young and I did not realize how large a change it would be moving to America. It made my family happy and sad at the same time that we had finally been accepted to move to America. We were happy to start a new life, but we were sad to leave our extended family behind. We had to leave everyone behind including cousins, grandparents and my mother’s family.
We began a new chapter in the United States in 2014 in Savannah. To get there, we had to fly into New York on New Year’s Day. It was cold, and we saw snow for the first time. The only English words we knew how to say were “good morning.” My father had taught us these words. Sometimes we made a mistake and said those words in the evenings.
My dad knew basic words in English, but it was hard not knowing the language to communicate with people. My dad taught us a lot about how to talk with people. He told us always to smile and look people in the eyes. When I was younger I did not wear the hijab because I was not required to since I was young. This is one reason why I did not face discrimination.
My family was resettled by International Rescue Committee in Savannah. What I found most helpful were my teachers and other students who took extra care of me and helped me with my work. This was important to me because it was hard to communicate with them, and they were still willing to help me even though I spoke no English. We were in Savannah for about seven months, and then we moved to Atlanta, where there was more work for my dad and brother.
I really like it here in Atlanta because I get to learn about all the different people and their cultures. I attend school with many other refugee students. I have friends from Somalia, Nepal, and Cuba. I especially like trying all the different types of food, especially Ethiopian food like samosa and Mexican food. I also enjoy American foods like burritos and cheeseburgers.
We can have a better life here in Atlanta than we could have had in Iraq. We learned English, we have better jobs, and we go to better schools. I am thankful to God and my dad for this new experience. Our dream was to come here, and he helped make it happen. So, always go for dreams and they will happen.
The writer is a 16-year-old girl in DeKalb County, Georgia, who attends the Young Women’s Leadership Program at New American Pathways.
Photo by Maya Martin/VOX Teen Staff.
Please join the VOX Investigates team and our community partners for a teen-led dialogue on Immigration on Dec. 9 at the Loudermilk Center. RSVP at bit.ly/VOXDEC9