More than 200 people gathered around a bonfire at Sandy Creek Park’s forest amphitheater to listen to stories on the theme, “Stranger in a Strange Land – Immigration Stories.” Nine people shared their stories, including immigrants from seven different countries and four continents.
Our emcee was Brad Smith, longtime resident of Jubilee Partners, a Christian community that provides resettlement help to newly arrived refugees.
Back in Nigeria, most of what Simisola Shebioba-Johnson knew about the United States was from watching “Soul Train,” where young blacks with big afros and platform shoes danced without a care. “That’s where I want to be,” she thought. She married her Nigerian boyfriend, who had traveled to the United States to study abroad. But when she flew to join him in Amarillo, Texas, she was shocked, in more ways than one, by the situation that confronted her.
Humberto (“Beto”) Mendoza immigrated with his brothers from Mexico to the United States, where they opened a mechanics shop together. But hard times came, and they had to close the shop. That year they had a bleak Christmas dinner, along with memories of everything they missed about Christmas time in Mexico.
Patricia Tacuri‘s family lived in Cusco, Peru, where her father was a professor of geology. But when he was ordered to work in a dangerous part of the country controlled by the militant Shining Path rebels, her parents fled Peru and hired a coyote to guide them on the dangerous journey across the Mexican border and into California.
When Neville Anderson‘s mother, Del Rose, immigrated to the United States as a domestic worker, Neville had to stay behind in a boarding house for kids in Jamaica. Eventually he, along with his sister and father, was able to join his mother in Washington, D.C., where he had to defend himself against bullies and learned to run really fast. His mother said, “In this life you fight and then you die.” His parents taught him that you can do anything in the United States if you’re educated — a message Neville took to heart.
Benjamin Milano came from Puerto Rico to chilly Iowa to study writing but while in grad school found himself wondering, “Did I come here to write or to learn how to set boundaries against bigots?” The unassuming poet took self-defense lessons from a friend and was soon “prepared like a gladiator.”
Chuck Horne was chosen as the Cracker Jack storyteller. He shared an improptu story with the crowd about his observations on gender roles while working in Saudi Arabia and his encounter with a mysterious woman on a plane.
Emuel Aldridge was working on a pine-cone picking crew when he accidentally hit a deer with his truck. Not wanting to waste the meat, he took it to some of the Salvadoran immigrants on his work crew. The evening he spent there, working on the deer and listening to stories, was one he wouldn’t soon forget.
Nasrin Rouhani and her husband fled Iran after the Islamic Revolution. As people of the Baha’i Faith, they were a persecuted minority. Eventually they made their way to Athens, found work, bought a house and had two children. But despite achieving the “American Dream,” they were not able to evade violence. Nasrin’s strong faith has carried her through.
As a school girl growing up in a small town in South Korea, Eun Sun excelled in all subjects except English. Little did she know that when she was 12, her father would get a job in the United States, and they would all have to move. For months she didn’t speak at all as she struggled to adjust to the new culture and language. But she rallied and again became an excellent student. She excelled in math and science and got a full scholarship to the University of Georgia. As she noted, this sounds like a typical Asian girl success story, right? But there’s a twist