From civil war to citizenship
Mahamoud family gains citizenship after leaving turmoil
By Joshua Staloch
GREEN BAY – Moustapha Mahamoud is an American, first and foremost.
He doesn’t remember anything about his youth in Somalia, the land he was born in, in the early 1980s.
A civil war broke out, leading to the collapse of the country’s central government.
He can’t recall how unsafe it was in his homeland.
Or how his father Mahamed, who taught history and math at the elementary level in Mogadishu, and mother Halimo Youssouf felt compelled to pack up their two small children and flee to Djibouti.
But Moustapha can remember their journey was long and there were times when the ultimate goal, American citizenship and a future of peace and opportunity, seemed out of reach.
“There was nothing but chaos there. We could not stay,” said Moustapha. “For my parents, it was too much worry. They knew they had to do whatever they could to get us out.”
Relocating to Djibouti, a country that shares a border with Somalia as well as Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, provided relief from immediate danger and uncertainty in government.
Over the years, Moustapha’s father made the transition from educator to fisherman and eventually the family grew to nine, with Moustapha being the oldest of the seven children.
Over the years, the prospect of a return to Somalia, where the civil war had killed hundreds of thousands since they left as refugees, faded and the Mahamouds decided the best move for their future was to plant roots in America.
So once again, the family walked away from everything it had built and set out for a new life.
They researched and learned the midwest – between Minneapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan – was home to a growing community of Somali refugees.
They picked Green Bay for its central location and reputation as an area accepting of people in their situation.
At first, life for the Mahamouds in America in the early 2000s was nothing short of constant struggle.
Moustapha’s father was unable to find work because he didn’t speak English, and the family scraped by on $620 a month in government assistance.
But they slowly learned the language and assimilated themselves to their new environment, and things eventually began to come together.
Now, Moustapha is a contributing member of the Green Bay community.
He has been working at a local food processing facility for nearly six years and recently became a union member.
He and several of his siblings share an apartment near the one his mother and father live in with his younger sisters.
The family regularly worships at the mosque on Velp, where local Muslim neighbors get together to take advantage of the First Amendment – freedom of religion.
“The Muslim community here is strong,” Moustapha said. “I have never had a problem, never felt ashamed to be a Muslim here. Green Bay has been very good to us.”
As 2020 approaches, the Mahamoud family is thriving.
All nine are fluent English speakers and, as of earlier this year, they are all proud American citizens.
Moustapha has been communicating for years electronically with a woman in Africa, and recently, he traveled there to meet her face-to-face for the first time.
The two now have an intercontinental love story developing as he plans to help her immigrate to America someday soon, where she will begin the process of gaining American citizenship so the two can start a life together here.
This is Moustapha’s American Dream.
When asked about what his perfect job might look like, he said he would someday want to be a truck driver and have a route between here and Minneapolis, where he has extended family and enjoys the liveliness of the big city.
“That’s really all I want,” Moustapha said. “The winters are very tough. In Djibouti, it is hot all the time, never cold at all. I am still not used to this. But I want to start a family of my own here someday. This is my home, my family’s home, and I’m very proud to be here and to finally be an American.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 18, the Brown County Board of Supervisors voted to continue to accept refugees without a limit.
The vote means Brown County now joins Green Bay and the State of Wisconsin in welcoming refugees.
Editor’s note: The reporter has known Moustapha for several years through Literacy Green Bay, where the two worked on language skills and prepared for the citizenship test.