Making Buffalo Home
Making Buffalo Home | Stories

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.

Meet Beh Meh
Making Buffalo Home

Beh Meh | Making Buffalo Home

4:53
Published:

Meet Beh who was born in Myanmar and grew up in a refugee camp before making Buffalo home.

Beh was born in a small village in Myanmar (Burma), a country that has suffered civil war, political oppression and ethnic conflict since the 1950s. She and her family are Karenni, an ethnic minority there.

“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.
Beh Meh
“Growing up in refugee camp, all I could remember was my dad constantly remind us to study, study, study,” she said. “My dad was a nurse. He would always say that if we're not educated we will end up being on the farm all day long having to work under the rain and the sun and he doesn't want that for us. So education is very big in our family. My mom didn't get to go to school when she was young. Her family cannot afford it. She had to work in the farm and she did not get a chance to go to school. And my dad had to leave my grandmother to get his education. So for them, for us that get a chance to go to school, it's a really big deal and they don't want us to miss that opportunity.”

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.”
With unfamiliar surroundings and knowing just a few words of English school was not easy. Beh and her brother were the only students in the school that did not speak English.

“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."
Beh’s younger brothers were born in the refugee camp but were still very young when the family moved to the United States. Like many immigrant and refugee families, Beh and her family try to preserve their customs and traditions while making a home in their new country.

“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."
Meet Juweria Dahir
Making Buffalo Home

Juweria Dahir | Making Buffalo Home

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Published:
Rating: TV-G

Meet Juweria, who was born in Somalia and grew up in Europe before making Buffalo home.

Juweria was born in Somalia in the 1990s during the civil war. She was only a few weeks old when her family fled Mogadishu and were resettled in Männedorf, a small town in Switzerland. Juweria had a normal Swiss childhood, except her family spoke Somali and Arabic in addition to German.

“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.
Juweria Dahir
Juweria loves Buffalo and has embraced the city. She is diligently working to make the city a better place to live in for all of its residents.

“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.
What does American look like?
“I have a conflict in my mind because there's the good and there's the bad. And I'll explain that because the good for me is, when I think of the United States, I see opportunity, the anthem is revolved around freedom, unity. And then sometimes on the ground, it's well who gets to be American and what does American look like?”

“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.”
Sometimes when people first encounter Juweria and hear that she was born in Somalia they assume she is a refugee who recently resettled in Buffalo and may struggle with English.

“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 a two-year, in-depth WNED | WBFO engagement initiative to inform and raise awareness of immigration for our entire community. The project aims to help the region develop a better understanding of the shared opportunities and challenges we face together as long-time residents and new immigrants and refugees.

Making Buffalo Home is funded by Rich Products Corporation and Rich Family Foundation.