In the early 1900’s, not that long ago really, my great grandparents immigrated to America from Europe. They came here with few possessions but big dreams of the opportunities that their new home might give to their children. As a parent I can imagine the fear of the unknown they felt in coming to a new place so far away from their homeland, but also their hope that everything that they had heard about the great United States was true. That this was the land where their children would be able to grow up and work towards whatever goals they set for themselves. Instead of being limited by poverty or an oppressive government, where the choices are few.
I saw that same hope in the family of refugees that a group of Basilica parishioners welcomed to Minnesota in February. They had been living in a refugee camp for over 20 years but their hope had not been extinguished. They knew that they had been given a precious opportunity and they were ready to make the most of it. The nervousness on their faces when they arrived at the airport was transformed to smiles when they saw the group gathered to greet them waving both American and Somali flags.
When the Basilica mentor group that I was a part of had our first meeting with them to get introduced, we asked what their goals were in their new home country. All of the children in the family talked about getting an education and helping to support their family. They are close knit family. The two older sons protective of their parents and younger sisters, and the parents nervous about getting settled and being able to make ends meet in a place where they still had so much to figure out.
The four members of the Basilica mentor team along with the families’ case worker and other staff from Lutheran Social Services kept in touch via email, keeping each other up to date on how the family members were doing and discussing the different needs they had. We worked together to help them explore and become familiar with their new home. While they came from a very different world than the US I had a glimpse of just how much young people, from any means, gravitate towards a common love of music and social media. On a trip to the library to get library cards the “kids” (ages 14-21) had the opportunity to have some computer time. While they needed a little assistance to start using the keyboard they were all four soon logged onto either YouTube or sites with music videos and totally immersed in the experience with their respective earphones on. On a family trip to Como Park both parents and kids delighted in the animals they were seeing for the first time. The parents were pointing out antelope and bison that were similar to those they had known back in Somalia, their homeland, although the children have never seen it having been born in the Kenyan refugee camp.
The family decided in June to move to southern MN to be closer to family members, but I know that having been a small part of their journey was an amazing gift for me. I understand better now my history, the great amount of courage it took for my family members to journey to the US from so far away to make a better life, not only for their own children but for generations to come. We are truly blessed to be able to live here and to have the opportunity to pay it forward and share the American dream with others.