We know that statistics cannot tell the full story of immigration, people do. Through this project, we’ll meet some people who have made Buffalo home and learn about their journey, struggles, accomplishments, hopes and dreams through their words, experiences and ideas.
This video series profiles people who have made their way to Buffalo recently from countries such as Burma, Somalia, Iraq and Vietnam but we'll also introduce you to people who's ancestors made their way Buffalo via Italy, Ireland, Poland and Germany decades ago.
Making Buffalo Home
Kassim Kassim | Making Buffalo Home
Meet Kassim, from Somalia, who spent years as a refugee before making Buffalo home.
Kassim was born in Mogadishu, the capitol city of Somalia, during a long and turbulent civil war that still exists today. By the time he was six years old, Islamic extremist groups who opposed the Somali government were murdering hundreds and committing regular acts of terror. Thousands were fleeing due to the fighting, the drought, and famine. Kassim and his family were victims of this horrific violence. Late one afternoon, men rushed into the family home, armed with weapons, and brutally murdered his father while the entire family watched, including Kassim. He’ll never know why those men spared the rest of his family.
It was 2015 when the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) resettled Kassim’s family to the United States, and designated Buffalo, New York as their home. Absolutely everything was new for him – the language, the people, and the experience at a new school. Several years later, he’s beginning to feel like Buffalo is home. He thanks Journey’s End Refugee Services, the local resettlement agency who worked with his family, for making the transition a little easier. Kassim also credits the teachers at his school for how far he’s come.
At Lafayette, many of the students have similar stories to share from their background. The staff works to create a safe space for the kids to learn, to work through the trauma of their past, and to begin embracing life as a teenager in America. Kassim is reluctant to name a “favorite” teacher, saying instead, “They are all equal for me. I like the way they help me and are by my side. They ask how I am doing, they talk to me when I am sad or have a life problem. They understand what I have gone through.”
Making Buffalo Home
Beh Meh | Making Buffalo Home
Meet Beh who was born in Myanmar and grew up in a refugee camp before making Buffalo home.
“I don't really have a memory but my parents often talked about it,” Beh says. “They said during that time that it wasn't very safe. There was a war going on. We were not considered citizens. My dad was a leader in that small village because he was pretty educated so whenever the soldier came to the village, my dad has to be responsible for taking care of them. If not, then our family will be in danger. My dad did not like the responsibility and the pressure that he was under. So he escaped in the middle of the night.”
The family was separated for a year before Beh fled with her mother and older brother with the help of an uncle. Making their way to a refugee camp in Thailand, the family was finally reunited.
The family spent nine difficult years in Thailand and eventually came to the United States in 2009 where they were resettled in Kenmore, New York.
“It was a cultural shock for me when I first arrived to United States,” she recalls. “I think you don't realize it unless you come in from a different culture. When I first got here, everything was just amazing. You have water running right in your living room. Back home I had to wake up really early to get water every morning for the house.”
“For my entire middle school year, I did not say anything except in ESL class, she remembers. “I just don't talk to anybody. The majority of the time I just listen, absorbing what's going on. When I got to high school I finally speak.”
Despite the language barriers a welcoming teacher fed her quest for learning and inspired her desire to be an educator. “I've always wanted to be either a teacher or a nurse,” she says. “My social study teacher was very welcoming. Even though I did not know any English, she always made me feel welcome in the classroom. At that time, I don't know how to express my gratitude. I went to visit her a few weeks ago and I told her the impact that she made in my life and ever since that I wanted to be an ESL teacher.”
Beh is pursuing her teaching degree at Buffalo State College. She is also active in the Buffalo Immigrant Leadership Team, or BILT, which focuses on increasing the graduation rate and lowering the dropout rate for immigrant and refugee kids. “I want to be an influencer so hopefully someday I'll change somebody's life just like my middle school teacher did in mine,” she says. "I'm very big advocate for education, so I really wish and hope that every kid will get educated and chase their dream."
“Clothing and our language is a big part,” Beh says. “My mom always wears her traditional clothes, she always wears longyis wherever she goes. And my mom is always encouraging my younger brothers to talk and to speak in our native language so that they don't lose it, but they already slowly losing it. If I try to speak to them in Karenni, which is our native language, but it takes them forever trying to understand what I'm saying. The Karenni people that came from the same refugee camp. We hold the same culture. We share the same food. Deeku festival, we celebrate that in August every year. So everybody comes together. Every family puts in a little bit of donation and comes to cook together and they have music and dance."
Making Buffalo Home
Juweria Dahir | Making Buffalo Home
Meet Juweria, who was born in Somalia and grew up in Europe before making Buffalo home.
“I grew up just accepting that I was different,” recalls Juwereia. “We were the only blacks, the only Muslims,” By the time I reached 12, we were then looking for a new home, so we relocated to the UK.”
Her family moved to Birmingham, where they connected with other East African families who also faced similar challenges. There, she added English to her list of languages and eventually went on to university. “I was also looking for love, like any young person,” she says. “I stumbled on my now-husband. He was a Buffalonian. “
She first came to the Buffalo as a European citizen after getting married and continued her post-graduate studies at the University at Buffalo.
“When I first came to the US, urban planning wasn't really my career path,” she says. “I'm now in the school of architecture and planning, so I pay attention to the built environment, I pay attention to people places, buildings, you name it. Here, you have a better chance of making an impact; you can see the turnaround. I feel like I’ve become part of those who are making the change.”
“Honestly Buffalo is probably the first home that I've felt,” she says. “I'm so invested in the people here, I guess maybe it's my urban planning perspective, I love helping and supporting and being service to people and that means being part of them and letting them know that I'm here to stay. I am a Buffalo girl and I consider myself a Buffalonian. I want to contribute to Buffalo, because it's my home. If I see a challenge in Buffalo, I want to be at the forefront, shoulder to shoulder supporting the work, the contribution, the effort to elevate people, to then be part of that change.”
Juweria became an US citizen last February. “Now that I am a citizen, I am an American by law. I can fully now be a part of the voting process. I can now have a say which really matters to me,” she says.
“For me as an East African Muslim person, religion and culture is also very intertwined, so my faith is pretty much the first priority for me. For me it's my religion but it's also my identity, so when you Juweria, you also see a picture of Juweria with a hijab, with a head scarf. Just being visibly different, embracing that and then saying I'm a black Muslim woman, I think it's very powerful. I enjoy that, but also it makes me very different and sometimes leads to uncomfortable conversations.”
“When I mention that I work in City Hall, sometimes by default people assume I work in the New American office. The reason why they're asking that question is because they're looking at me and saying, maybe that's where you also work, because you're probably a new American,” says Juweria.
People are often surprised to learn that she is an immigrant from the UK, speaks four languages and will soon hold a master’s degree.
“You can pretty much write a story about me without even talking to me. And then I'll probably have to do a lot of crosses and say, ‘nope, that's not true, and this is not true, and in fact this is definitely not true," she says. So there are different layers, and those are things that we won't know based on just looking at the image of the person. I think I do break those specific stereotypes that people hold. I can wear the identity of being a black woman, identity of being a young mom, just a Muslim woman, a woman who's educated, a woman who's kind of figuring out life for her own and creating her own identity, all those on different things. In Buffalo, if you meet an immigrant or refugee, it's likely they have come through the resettlement process, but then there's also other people like me who've come here by choice, who've come here because maybe they found love or maybe there's better opportunity or maybe they feel like they have a specific skill set that they can contribute."
Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.