It was a warm summer day. A cool breeze blew through the open garage door at Bluebeard Coffee. Asad and I sat across from one another — me sipping my coffee and him his tea.
I asked him, “What do you want people to know about your journey to America?”
“Three things,” he said. “It was a dream that brought me to America. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get here and succeed. And finally, I couldn’t have done it alone.”
I had been contacted by a group asking me whether I’d work with a young man to craft his story for an event they were putting together for local politicians, policy makers and community leaders to showcase the real stories of immigrants and refugees living in the South Sound.
It was a no brainer for me to say “yes.” There are very few things I love more than helping others tell their stories, and I was, and still am, deeply concerned about the narrative around immigrants and refugees in our country, particularly those from predominantly Muslim countries.
Asad told me the journey of a refugee is fueled by a dream — the dream of a better life.
“No one wants to leave their homeland,” he said, “but sometimes circumstances leave you with no other option. We leave our homes with a heavy heart, but in that same heart we carry this fragile dream.”
The first leg of Asad’s journey took him to a refugee camp. He told me about the hard conditions and about meeting people who had been in the camps for nearly 20 years. What fueled Asad’s determination was the fear that his dream could end in that refugee camp like so many others.
School was “optional” in the refugee camp; attendance was spotty and instruction was the same. But, Asad made a commitment to attend school every day to demonstrate his desire to learn.
Some of the Americans working in the camp took notice of his diligence. One of them was a woman, an immigration lawyer, who paved the way for him to come to America.
The next people he talked about were his host family who lived in Washington. They lived in a community unaccustomed to immigrants and refugees, particularly those from a Muslim country. They risked unpopularity to do what they thought was right.
When he got to America and started high school as a freshman, he was told there was no way he would be able to graduate on time given his reading and writing skills. He told his English teacher that was unacceptable. That teacher put in countless extra hours tutoring Asad.
Not only did Asad graduate on time, he is now enrolled in community college and is working two jobs to help pay for tuition and living expenses. He plans to transfer to a university after two years and pursue a career in foreign policy.
Asad wants to make a career doing what that woman in the refugee camp did for him. He wants to “be the help” that was offered to him by so many others.
Asad is a remarkable young man, there is no doubt. It is true that his story is not the story of every refugee and immigrant, but neither is it the story of every child born in this country.
We all have a story, and when we take time to listen to one another’s stories, especially those of people very different from us, we are able to recognize our own stories. We see that our dreams are not so different from their dreams and that it’s possible for us to find solidarity in the common struggle to overcome adversity.
Finally, we are reminded that none of us walked the path alone — someone was there to help us find our way home.
Tad Monroe of Tacoma is an organizational and community development consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org