Somali author to speak at Beaverton City Library
Abdi Nor Iftin, author of "Call Me American," will conclude community activities for the 2020 One Book, One Beaverton program with a personal appearance.
He is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, in the auditorium of the Beaverton City Library, 12375 S.W. 5th Ave. The program is free; no reservations are required.
Iftin will sign books and light refreshments will be served after the program.
Iftin is an immigrant from Somalia who made his way to the United States. He now lives in Portland, Maine, where he is a student and works as an interpreter.
He agreed to respond to a few questions:
Question: Why did you decide to write this book?
Answer: There is a need for understanding the refugee, displaced and immigrant stories of today. There is a misunderstanding and stereotyping of the Somalis and their stories. Somalia and its people have more stories to tell than those shown in the movies such as "Black Hawk Down" and "Captain Phillips."
I wrote my memoir to go deeper into the issues that surround the Somali civil war and droughts that lead to massive displacement, death and continuous wars, but the memoir also captures the survival out of these miseries and what it takes.
The determination, resilience, the motivation and hopes. I wanted the world to know that despite the wars, the radicalization of youth, the lack of opportunity, the fears that there was still a hope out in the world for us, that there are people like myself who would do anything to earn that hope, in my case, the American dream. It was this dream that motivated me, kept me going until I got here.
Q: How do you feel being selected for a reading program that covers an entire community?
A: I hope many communities do the same in the future. This is a critical time, a time when the world's moving population is increasing but resettlement programs are decreasing. America and the world need to hear the root causes of migration, refugee and the stories of displaced people.
In my visit to Oregon, I will be speaking not only to the community members but also to the students some of whom might be the future leaders of this country. It is important to remind ourselves of the foundation of this nation. And since I have only been here less than six years, I will share my story with the community, it might shed light on the current issues of refugees and immigration. I'll be open to interact with anyone who has a question, or wants know what it takes to get here through the Diversity Lottery Program, or the refugee resettlement.
Q: How difficult was it for you to recount not only your memories of your early life, but also those of your mother and father, brother and sister? How have you perceived how Americans reacted to them, given that most have not had such experiences?
A: It was traumatizing and at times very painful going back to memories. It felt like digging up a wound and feeling the pain of it. It was particularly difficult since my mother still lives in the dangers of the civil war and on the same street where I grew up. Talking to her about my childhood and asking questions was very difficult. We both cried, shed tears and hung up the phone without getting much information. I had to call back and insist that I wanted to know more of my childhood and my mother was finally open to taking me through the difficult journey we took first day of the war. Those stories had never been told.
At times Somalis avoid talking about them due to the pain they could cause. I shared them with the world, so that they world knows what happens when people lose their country, houses and families scatter. American who read those stories have been deeply touched and made them realize of the privileges of this country.
Q: What about reaction from Somalis who have come to this country and read the book?
A: Somalis who have read the book who lived through the same experience have found me courageous and fearless. We avoid talking about these stories, but I shared them and talk to the American everyday about my stories. It had also awakened the younger Somali-Americans who were born here in the U.S and never been to Somalia. Their parents might not want to talk to them about their experiences but after reading this book, they learned a lot of what their parents had been through and the difficult journey they had to endure to get here.
Q: How much easier (or how different) was it to write the book, given that you had already taken part in radio programs on the BBC and This American Life?
A: The most difficult part of writing the book was reliving the memories of the past. Even though those memories were vivid and still alive, writing them in a book was difficult. It made me cry at times as I write. Since it was not my native language, that was also a little bit difficult. My feelings and emotions came in my first and native language. My mind spoke my native language but I wrote in English and I wonder if the feeling would be felt, I wondered if the world could hear my screams and cries, and shouts and joys throughout. It seems like the world heard is exactly the way my emotions came.
Q: What do you hope readers take away after reading your book?
A: Readers will digest the struggles that exist, the bureaucracy that brings challenges and denials. The long waits of refugee programs and that nothing out there is easy. That I fought for the easy things that everyday Americans take for granted. I fought for liberty, freedom, my rights and an identity. These are all I wanted and risked my life to get them. I hope the stories in the book remind the Americans of the values and importance of they have. And that we won't lose it.
Q: Finally, what do you think about Arnold Schwarzenegger now that you are here?
A: When I came to the United States in the fall of 2014, I realized that Arnold Schwarzenegger has an accent, an Austrian accent and that he himself is an immigrant inspired and motivated by the Tarzan films. I see him as a member of the fabric of what makes America America. I followed suit, inspired by him and many will follow and will be inspired by other immigrants who came to this country and made American even know more. In many cases it is immigrants that make American such an exceptional place for everybody else to come and live and thrive.
Beaverton City Library offers a final week of activities related to the 2020 One Book, One Beaverton program. All programs are at the main library, 12375 S.W. 5th St.
MON JAN 27 6 PM Film Screening: A Stray
Trying to outrun his bad luck, Adan, a young Somali refugee in Minneapolis, seems like he just might make it, until he crosses paths with a stray dog. In spite of Adan's belief that the Quran forbids interacting with dogs, the pair's bond proves strong, and they stick together as they wander through various circles of the urban dispossessed seeking acceptance.
WED JAN 29 6-7:30 PM Meet Your Somali Neighbors
Join us for a panel discussion with members of Beaverton's Somali community. We'll talk about experiences of immigration, culture and what it means to be American. Enjoy Somali food provided by Beaverton's own Hayat Restaurant.
SAT FEB 1 7 PM An Evening with Author Abdi Nor Iftin
Join us for the culminating event with author Abdi Nor Iftin. Stay after the talk to get your book signed by the author and enjoy light refreshments.
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