This past week on Thursday, October 18, a discussion -part of the Conversations on Social Issues (COSI) series- was held in room A of the Seattle Central Library. This talk focused on the stories of immigrants and refugees coming to The United States and their experiences with the feelings, challenges, and changes that come with that big move. The event, hosted by the library, was led by Katie Dong, a youth organizer working with the non-profit agency One America, and two students attending Seattle Central, Mamudou Kuyateh and Omar Osman, who both have experienced leaving their home countries and coming to America.
The meeting was held in the hope of raising awareness about the different struggles that come with being an immigrant in a place far from your home country. Mamudou Kuyateh, a Gambian immigrant, explained the importance of stories; how they make us who we are and build our identities. He transitioned to the challenges of moving to America in the first place, and how the process of getting a Visa is a struggle that many immigrants and refugees can relate too. He came here in 2016, first stopping in New York, with no prior knowledge of the culture here. Some of the challenges he faced when coming here were environmental changes, social adaptations, culture shock, and the stress to his mental health . From a home where everyone was connected and sociable, moving to New York was isolating, as he adjusted to being a stranger in a new place with no friends or family and living in a country where people tend to be detached from one another. When coming to Seattle Central soon after his arrival to the States, he met others who had similar experiences and knew that he wasn’t alone. “My story is not just a single story. It’s not a unique story. It’s part of the larger story. I think it’s very powerful that we come together and share our stories,” he explained.
The next presenter, Omar Osman, a Seattle Central student from Somalia shared his experiences of moving to the United States. Because of the ongoing civil war in his home country, he has spent much of his life growing up in a refugee camp before sojourning to St. Louis, Missouri in the summer of 2016. He explained that, because of his circumstances, instead of an immigrant Visa he had to apply for refugee status; a rigorous process consisting of steps such as medical checks, fingerprinting, and security background interviews set up by the U.S. government to make sure that the refugees here are clear of any issues relating to their country. Additionally, applying for refugee status delays the already arduous ordeal of moving to a different country even more. When he finally did arrive with his family, he saw a diverse community but also the problems within that, such as segregation. He considers this a strong factor that made him interested in the activism that he does today.
This COSI discussion was meant to bring students from all backgrounds together and for them to have an opportunity to tell their stories. The gathering was an introduction to the new Immigrant and Refugee Club at Seattle Central, which will have its first official meeting on October 29.