Rebecca Kromah had run four miles from the scene of a rebel attack when she realized her infant son, Mamoud, had slipped from the sling on her hip.
“Don’t go back,” her companions told her. “They will kill you for sure.”
Desperate, Kromah turned back anyway. She remembers running barefoot through jungle to the battlefield.
“He was there,” she says of Mamoud. “He was lying on the ground surrounded by the dead and he was crying.” That’s how she knew he was alive.
Rebecca and Mamoud survived the war in Sierra Leone and today they live in a community with dozens of other refugees and immigrants in North Phoenix. They, like their neighbors from Afghanistan, Iran, Liberia, the Sudan and Mexico, are grateful for the chance to rebuild lives on the comparatively solid ground of the United States.
Building new lives is what immigrants have been doing in this country for over 200 years. It is what the country is made of—the sweat born of dreams, driven by the memory of loss. The past two years it has been my privilege to witness this dreamwork firsthand in Phoenix’s Palomino neighborhoods.
After three years in the U.S., Mamoud, now 11, has learned to read. He plays soccer for the Sereno Soccer Club. One day, he says, he will go to college on a soccer scholarship. Rebecca rides the bus every day to work at Walmart. She is hoping to pass the test for her driver’s license soon. For her, little steps open worlds of promise.
Mamoud joins his friends Russ, Abulan, Oliver, and Philip in the dream of turning soccer into a diploma one day. Rebecca compares bus stories with Esther, Oretha and Viola, all escaped from war and now on the way to a better life.
I have come to realize that a great country is not afraid to nurture dreams like theirs. A great country recognizes these are the kinds of dreams that make for greatness. They are the stuff of the American dream, offering the downtrodden a future and a hope. Such a country says give me your poor.
Whether they are huddled in an African jungle or the desert of the Cabeza Prieta, those who seek to retool broken lives via the American dream follow a precedent that has made this country strong.
I have discovered that by opening my own heart, I am humbled by the strength of these dreamers, tempered by war and deprivation.
As I watch news reports on border control and track the impact of legislation like Arizona’s Proposition 300 on college students hoping to better their lives and the Employer Sanctions law, I wonder if this country is sated on Rebecca’s and Mamoud’s, Julio’s and Maria’s. Have we just had enough of those yearning to be free?
Whether it is Rebecca Kromah waiting at the bus stop, or Abraham Cazueta standing on a street corner hoping to do day labor, those risking all for a chance in the U.S. are fighting for better lives for themselves and their families.
In the tradition that has made this country great, let us meet them strength to strength and join dreams.