Nearly 25 years ago, my family emigrated from Somalia to America. We had the opportunity because my grandfather worked at the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu for over 30 years.
Our story begins in Somalia when the country fell apart because of civil war, the killings began and our family dispersed all over the country just to survive. My wife, whom I met in Minneapolis, has a similar story.
One of my brothers and I walked 12 days from the southern port city of Kismanyo to the Kenya border.
My mother fled to central Somalia with six of my brothers and sisters and a number of extended family members.
Father stranded in Kuwait
My father was stranded in Kuwait, where he had gone two years before to find work. He could not come back because there was no country for him to go back to.
I spent time with my brother in the refugee camp while separated from rest of our family. The refugee camp did not have enough food and it was not safe.
In the camp, every person there dreamed of one thing: to get to America. We saw it as a land of opportunity and freedom where if you studied, worked hard and looked out for your neighbors, you could make any of your dreams, and those of your children, come true.
My family was finally reunited in America.
Placed in ninth grade, not knowing English alphabet
Upon arrival, I was placed in a ninth-grade class in high school because I was 15 years old. I didn’t know the English alphabet and I had huge gap in my elementary education in Somalia. To make up for this, I attended high school during the day and took additional classes at the local community literacy education center.
Ten years later, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering. A few years later, I completed an MBA while working full time as an engineer and raising a family.
I’m proud of my country. I’m proud of the fact that it took a refugee in and gave him the opportunity to thrive and repay its generosity.
A different America
But the truth is, had rules like the ones Donald Trump signed on Jan. 27 been in effect, my entire family and that of my then future wife would likely have never made it out alive or spent the rest of our days in a refugee camp. That America is not one that people the world over dream of living in.
That would be an America that does not live up to its greatness but instead huddles inside its walls fearful of the outside world and its own people.
I believe in a different type of America — an America that has the moral standing to stand up to tyranny and terrorism.
We can do better, and we will do better.
Jamal Abdulahi is the father of four daughters and an engineer. He plans to run for Congress in Minnesota’s 5th district if/when Keith Ellison becomes DNC chair.