ERITREA Breaking News

Chuck Haga: With open arms, welcoming our newest citizens – Grand Forks Herald

In the first picture I have of Hasan Osman, from April 2014, he and I are sitting together in a small apartment in Grand Forks.

He looks weary at our first meeting … and maybe a bit wary. He and his young son, Sami, had arrived in the United States just two days before, refugees originally from Somalia, more recently stateless and living in Lebanon.

As a volunteer with Global Friends, I would be Hasan’s mentor, explaining strange new customs, rules and expectations. We would work on his English, and I would help him fill out long U.S. government forms.

In the most recent photo I have of Hasan, taken a week ago in the federal building in Fargo, he is holding a small U.S. flag in one hand and an official document in the other. He and 15 people from a dozen distant lands recited the Pledge of Allegiance, then raised their right hand, took an oath and became naturalized citizens of the United States.

I shook his hand and said “Congratulations, my fellow citizen.” He beamed, and I thought of the late Eliot Glassheim, state representative, City Council member, businessman, social activist, but most proud of that one simple title, citizen. It’s how we addressed each other in the years before he died in 2019: “Good morning, Citizen Glassheim!” “And to you, Citizen Haga.”

I had been to several naturalization ceremonies, usually as a reporter, and they always left me hopeful – and a little emotional. I would think about my father, a native of Norway who came to this country nearly a century ago and eventually stood in a U.S. courtroom and took the same oath.

All the current troubles, anger, doubts and fears over the divisions that face us – they all recede momentarily and I feel good about my country and its future. These people want to join us. They worked and studied and declared their faith in democracy, their hunger for freedom, their driving hope for a brighter future for their children.

People from a dozen countries, including Pakistan, Vietnam, Japan, El Salvador, Colombia, France, Eritrea and Turkey – stood with Hasan last week and took the oath. Some were young, in their 20s. Others were older, much older, including a woman who celebrated with what appeared to be four generations of family.

“I am happy,” Hasan told me as he drove us back to Grand Forks, after we toasted his new status with lunch at a Somali-American restaurant – beef strips and onions gripped with pieces of flat Somali frybread, with goat meat and basmati rice to go for later.

The meal, and Hasan chatting in Somali and Arabic with others in the restaurant, might seem odd to some, even offensive. “You’re an American now, in America,” they might say. “Speak English! Eat a cheeseburger!”

But the scene reminded me of the assurance offered to New Americans at the annual community picnic in Grand Forks, hosted by Global Friends and, for the past half-dozen years, co-hosted by members of one of the more established ethnic communities – the Norwegian Americans, the Germans from Russia, the Croatians and other peoples of southeastern Europe, and others. With old-country foods and national flags and history, they tell the more recently arrived, “You don’t have to forget or surrender all that you came from to be part of us.”

Global Friends expects to resettle 30 or so refugees here this year, and some of the most recent arrivals – from such places as Pakistan and El Salvador – participated in the annual International Refugee Day last Saturday.

Children from several lands, enrolled in English language programs, sang, danced and put on a play during the first Farmers Market of the year in Town Square.

Looking for an important, satisfying volunteer project? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported last year that 200 million people were displaced by war, persecution, human rights abuses and other violence.

We can’t take them all. But we have room here, and jobs, for a few, who would broaden, brighten and strengthen our community.

Hasan has worked steadily since he arrived in 2014, first cleaning rooms in a local motel, since as a valued employee at Sam’s Club. Sami graduated from Red River High School a few years ago and is studying computer programming at Northland Community & Technical College in East Grand Forks.

From paycheck to paycheck, Hasan has repaid the U.S. government for the airfare that brought him and his son here. He has gradually worked himself off housing and other public assistance.

He will apply now for a U.S. passport and, with it, travel back to Somalia, where several siblings still live, then return to his new country. He has eyes on business opportunities here.

As we drove back from Fargo, I prodded Hasan about his new status, reminding him that one of the rights we American citizens cherish is the right to complain.

“No,” he said, smiling, refusing to take the bait. “I am happy today.”

Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at

Source link