Accessibility links

A Somali Immigrant Helps Refugees - 2002-05-30

English Programs Feature #7-36351
Broadcast May 27, 2002

In today’s edition of New American Voices, we talk with Hassan Gore, an immigrant from Somalia who now helps refugees from various countries get settled in the United States.

Based on his own immigrant experience and on his experience working with refugees for the past ten years, Hassan Gore believes that there are some basic requirements for achieving success in this country.

“When you come here, work very hard. Obey the laws in this country. There might be a cultural difference. In your country you might have a different culture that might be illegal here, and you need to very much pay attention. There is no polygamy allowed in the United States. You cannot hit your wife in the United States. These are illegal, and you need to obey the law. If you break it, you will be in trouble. On the other hand, there is a lot of opportunities. You have to work very hard, get education, and you will be very good in the United States.”

In his job with Catholic Charities -– a non-governmental resettlement agency -- Hassan Gore helps refugees begin to get settled in the United States.

“The agency will pick them up from the airport, provide housing, they will orient them to a lot of things that we take for granted, for example a lot of refugees don’t even know how to light a stove, how to flush a a toilet, how to use those kinds of things, the equipment in the house. Also we educate them about the tenant-landlord relationship, what is their responsibility and what are their rights. We help them to apply for social security, we help them register their children in school, we get them access to English as a second language, we get them access to employment. The bottom line is really to make a new family that came here to become self-sufficient and integrate into society successfully.”

Mr. Gore says finding a job is usually the hardest part of the resettlement process, and the more so after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The resettlement agencies do their best to help.

”It is, I would say, a two-track system that we work. One is to first educate employers that refugees doesn’t mean illegal aliens who are terrorists. They are legal people who have a legal right to work. They are new Americans who will eventually become citizens. On the other track is to help clients understand that the market is very tight and they need to fight very hard to get a job. We will teach them how to highlight the skills that they had in their country that could be transferable to a new job, and also what to do and what not to do in terms of when you’re in an interview. Being on time, make eye contact, shake hands, speak clearly… So we prepare them and teach them what the employer’s expectations are.”

Hassan Gore came to the United States in 1984 as an eighteen-year-old student. Just as he received his university diploma and was about to return home, war broke out in Somalia, and he decided to stay here. He says his adjustment to life in America was not easy.

“Coming to the United States –– it’s very different, to live in a society where you are different in color. The majority of people are a different color, race than you are. And the ones that are of the same race are different, too. I remember a friend of mine who just came from West Africa that didn’t speak much English, and he was surprised that the first black American that he saw couldn’t speak his language.”

Hassan Gore says that it is difficult for African immigrants to identify with the African-American community, because the two know so little about each other.

“We have a picture of each other that is painted by other people. When we are in Africa we see movies, and the roles they play is what we think they are. They are in jail, or they are servants, or they are criminals, and that’s the kind of image you get, you’re afraid of them when you come here. They think that we still live in the jungle, or maybe what they see on television, that there’s only war and starvation in the whole continent.”

Nevertheless, Hassan Gore feels that he and other African immigrants owe African-Americans a huge debt of gratitude.

“There is a difficulty in relating, but there is a relationship that is not spoken of, which is that we share a color, and we share that commonality. Discrimination in the United States is not gone, that mentality has not a hundred percent left the United States. I think that many African immigrants should be very thankful. The African Americans have fought the civil rights movement in the United States, and they have paved the way for other colored people, Africans and other people, to come here and live in dignity. I don’t think that we would come here, as Africans, if we knew that we had to sit in the back of the bus.”

Hassan Gore is one of many immigrants and refugees who help others adjust to life in the United States. Next week, a Bosnian refugee who also works for a resettlement agency talks about her experiences.