On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, Allegheny College students, Abdi Lugundi and
Trevor Mahan, interviewed Adan Lugundi. Abdi and Adan are brothers, but Adan's
reflections and perspectives on his experience as a Somali-Bantu refugee in
America give insight into the experience of young refugee men of color. Adan
begins by sharing his memories from traveling between Somalia to Kenya and to
the United States. Once in the United States, Adan and his family struggled with
the language barrier, transportation, and prejudice. While there are values of
family and religion that Adan highly values in his culture, there are also
generational differences, that he says are a part of a "generation curse" within
the Somali-Bantu community. Adan is now a father, and he is involved as a mentor
for younger members in the Somali-Bantu community with the goal of challenging
generational differences and encouraging kids to pursue their interests in
school, work, hobbies, and relationships.
(0:00-5:25) Background: Adan shares some of his childhood memories from fleeing
Somalia to Kenya and then coming to America.
(5:26-11:25) Family and Culture: Adan describes his family and discusses some of
the holidays and cultural values in the Somali-Bantu community.
(11:26-19:27) Life in America: Adan describes what life was like in America upon
arrival. He recalls struggling with prejudice and racism at school and having to
help his family with the language and cultural gap.
(19:28-26:46) Generational Differences: Adan describes differences between the
older and younger generations in the Somali-Bantu community. The older
generation has traditional values that they often try to place on their
children, but he and others are working to change those practices.
(26:47-31:41) Words for Hope: Adan wants people to know about the Somali-Bantu
refugee experience, and he hopes future generations will seek new opportunities
and work hard.
Generational Differences, Prejudice, Racism, Community, Family, Culture
On Saturday, April 20th, 2019, students at Allegheny College, Abdi Lugundi and
Trevor Mahan, interviewed Adan Lugundi. This interview took place over the phone
and was recorded at Allegheny College.
Abdi: Can you like tell us what your name is?
Adan: My real name?
Abdi: Yeah, your full name.
Adan: My name is Adan Lugundi.
Abdi: Do we have permission to use your name in the published portions of this interview?
Abdi: Okay we are going to start off with some background questions. Where were
you born and where did you live?
Adan: I was born in Somalia, originally, and now I live in Pittsburgh PA.
Abdi: Do you mind telling us about your childhood home?
Adan: Well I was born in Somalia but my family migrated to Kenya, Dadaab, when I
was one year old. I spent about, until I was about 5, 7, or 9 years old-- no,
until I was 5, I believe I was in Bengali in a small village called Dadaab. And
also, my family migrated from Somalia to Kenya because of the civil war that
broke out to basically find a safe haven. And my little village it was a really
00:02:00small, small like it was a gated community, and it was mostly all Bantu, Bantu
refugees that lived there basically just waiting for the process to come to the
Trevor: Do you have some memories from-- some favorite childhood memories?
Adan: I didn't hear that.
Trevor: Do you have some favorite childhood memories?
Adan: Childhood memories. Yeah, I mean like we played when we were younger. We
played a lot of games, fun games, and everything else. And also, it was
mandatory for us to go to this Arabic teaching school so we could learn the
Koran and everything. And I mean I really don't have a lot of childhood memories
from back home, but I know a lot has happened and everything else you know what
I'm saying. So yeah--
Abdi: You were talking about the process of coming to America. Do you remember
that process and how did that experience feel for you?
Adan: It was an exciting experience and I remember the process and how it went.
It was basically like a draft thing. You know there was this-- I'm not sure what
they call it, but it's like I'm not sure how to describe it, but they call it
IOM. So, what they do is basically they pick out family names and they tell you
which ones are coming to the united states and you had a week a week to pack up
and everything and they let you know when and where you go. Before you go to the
United States, they have you in a small village-- not really a village in a
campsite-- called a goli where you will be interviewed whether you can come to
the United States or not.
Abdi: Was there anything that you did for the first time throughout that experience?
Adan: Such as?
Adan: Getting in a car and getting in a plane.
Abdi: We are just asking about your family, how big is your family? How well can
you describe them to us?
Adan: Well when you say family that's like you know that's a big word with
family. What kind of family are you talking about? Like close kin?
Abdi: Like close family members, like your siblings or people within your
household or the household you live in.
Adan: Well I have six sisters and one brother and one son. Well my family not
too much to describe, we are quiet. We keep to ourselves most of the time, well
a lot of the times actually. And you know it's really nothing much to describe
our family, we are really close to each you know, we try to look after each other.
Abdi: How are holidays usually celebrated in your family or community?
Adan: What was that I didn't hear you.
Abdi: How are holidays traditionally umm celebrated in your family
Adan: Usually...usually, usually it's just birthdays and umm mostly like Eid or
Ramadan or just Eid. Just Eid, there are 3 holidays celebrated, usually the 2
eids and you know we are allowed to celebrate.
Abdi: Can you tell us more about Ramadan? Can you hear me?
Adan: What you say?
Abdi: Can you explain to me more about more about ramadan?
Adan: Ramadan is a once a year, it's basically like a holy month. It's like a
00:08:00holy month where we are to fast for a month you know what I'm saying and then we
dont break fast until dawn. So basically, the fasting is purifying us from all
imperfections and everything else and basically like we believe it's the way of
life all human beings should live and by fasting is purifying your body, soul,
and mind. You know what I'm saying, bettering yourself throughout the year, the
month, basically just a reminder of practicing out religion.
Trevor: Are there any like special traditions, or customs, songs from somalia
that you and your family still try to hold onto?
Abdi: Uhh yea basically weddings and uhh let me see...family. Family is most
important. And basically, our customs and traditions is basically-- it's like a
family thing looking out for each other you know what I'm saying; basically
passing on the traditions and culture to the next generation.
Abdi: What is some type of cultural tendencies that you want on like with the
next generation? What are some cultural things you have been taught, that you
want to carry on to your son or so?
Adan: Well one thing for sure is family and community. That comes first before
anything, and I just want to keep that you know with my kid and with just
everybody else. It's like you know first family and then you know religion and
then everything else and we just don't forget our ways or our culture, cultural
00:11:00ways of doing things.
Abdi: Do you still maintain connections with family from back at home, from
Kenya or Somalia?
Adan: Yeah this summer and when I find the time to. Not a lot though.
Abdi: Speaking on your arrival to the United States? When did you come?
Adan: I came December 20th, 2004
Trevor: How old were you then?
Adan: I was 9 years old. More like 10 actually.
Trevor: What was the first thing you remember when you came to America?
Adan: Tall buildings. Bridges and you now beautiful skylight. You know I came
00:12:00through the tunnel.
Abdi: Where did you arrive?
Adan: You said when did I arrive or where?
Abdi: Where. Where did you first stop?
Actually the first stop we landed was in New York City, and then after that they
took us to our destination which was Pittsburgh.
Trevor: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania?
Trevor: And what was life like at first, when you first arrived in the first
month or two, what were things like?
Adan: Well it was really difficult due to the language barrier, and I had a hard
time understanding the others such as like the American kids or whoever I was
around. Besides that we had a lot of help so that was helpful. I can't say life
00:13:00was hard because I didn't experience any kind of hardship in our first two
months and maybe my parents did but like as me as a kid, its like you know, I
didn't need to go anywhere else and I didn't need much, everything I needed was
in the house such as food and everything else, so I can't say I experienced anything.
Abdi: You were talking about the problems you were having. Can you describe to
us some of the problems you had or the interactions you had with the other kids
possibly at school or around your neighborhood?
Adan: Well the school, our school, we just, the problems we had with the other
kids was the fact we was foreigners and you know they thought they could bully
us and stuff like that. You know basically making fun of us. And then on top of
that we didn't really know if they were making fun of us or laughing at us or
anything. But like the only way we could tell anything is by body language and
by facial expression so it's like we knew what it was you know. And basically we
fought a lot because of the miscommunication you know. Basically, I think it was
more like a prejudice thing, because we were dealing with the same African
00:15:00American kids you know it wasn't racism because we were all black; it was more
like a prejudice thing where they thought they were better than us and
everything else. So calling us names and and everything else that's something I
dealt with at school. I got into a lot of fights.
Trevor: You said your parents went through like some hardships and stuff. Were
you aware of any of that at the time?
Adan: Well yeah before it was transportation, getting to one place to another,
the fact that they didn't know how to drive, and plus on top of that they didn't
know the city pretty well, so they they had to wait on somebody to come get them
00:16:00and take them places and everything else and that took like-- when in doubt they
were really stuck in the house unless someone can come and get them. So that was
one of the hardships they were going through. On top of that, the fact that they
didn't know how everything worked, like paper work, or things they had to read.
They just knew we [their children] knew how to read and everything else and so
we always had to depend on other people to come look at our papers or letters or
anything that was sent to us or fill out any kind of form or anything. So that
was some of the hardships we were going through.
Abdi: Was there anything that differed you from like any average kid? What did
you have to do for your parents that other kids might not have had to do?
Adan: Well basically, as a youngin', back home, you were taught to be a man, at
00:17:00the age of five, when you start walking you know what I'm saying. So basically
our parents gave us this obligations that where it was like at the end of the
day you are a man, and you need to take care of your household. So a lot of
things I have to do was like, I can say forced to be a man at a very young age
where I didn't have much of a childhood that I could explain here in the United
States. Such like I had to take my parents everywhere such as hospitals, or
stores I mean I still do it now like translating and everything else; you know
00:18:00filling out papers, writing bills, and all that you know. When I got a job,
whereas other kids kept their money, I have to help out the family you know. So
I'm most like other African kids. They'll pretty much make sure them a man at a
very young age.
Abdi: Have you encountered any racism in school or your neighborhood or
workplace throughout your life
Adan: Did you say throughout my life?
Abdi: Yeah, or prejudice?
Adan: It was just like in middle-- not even middle school-- elementary. And now
00:19:00I can't say I regret it but more kids just been prejudice. Growing up I
understand why, mostly they brainwashed and they kids. One does something and
the other ones fall; it's just like a bad apple you know.
Trevor: Do you think there is generational differences within the Somali-Bantu
community? Between you and your parents? Or between older generations and
Adan: Can you ask the question again?
Trevor: Do you think there is generational differences between people in within
the Somali-Bantu community? Whether it's between you and your parents? Or
between older people and younger people?
Adan: Yeah there is huge generational differences. Such as between my generation
00:20:00and the generation after me. They adopted the American ways. Our parents like
their still stuck on their old cultural ways such as like marriage or for like a
man is supposed to be a man and get married and a woman is supposed to be a
woman and be in the kitchen. And now its like a lot of us are resisted from that
generational curse, we call it. Where its like there's kids who want to go to
college, but there are some of the parents who try to force them into early-age
marriage. And it's basically they try to keep the old ways on most of us, and we
00:21:00try to resist.
Trevor: What are some things, like keeping in mind you are raising a son, what
are things that you want to teach him differently with him being a younger generation?
Adan: Oh well one thing I want to teach him is you know that you don't have to
choose a certain group to be somebody. I just want him to be free from
everything. He's allowed to chose and be whatever he wants. You know we're
strict on our kids; what they want they want to be or what they are going to go
00:22:00to school for, or even if they go to school at all, and on top of all of that,
who they are going to be and that is one thing our parents will stop us from.
Like they try to limit us to be with people in our tribe or our culture or our
own ethnic background or our religious background. And so I just want to let my
son know that like he is free to chose and be whatever he wants or be with
whoever he wants to be with. And basically yeah you know just do the opposite of
what our parents have taught us how to raise him. Like teach him how to love. I
want to tell him its okay he can talk to me about everything. You know when I
was younger if there was something wrong, I was afraid to go to my parents I
00:23:00didn't have that connection with my parents where I can talk to them about
anything. I didn't have the love to tell my mom that I love her; it was more
like actions less doing you know. Basically by showing respect and doing what
you were told to do that's how they defined love, and I didn't believe in it at all.
Abdi: Do you think things are getting better in Pittsburgh with the generational
differences or the gap between the older generation and the younger generation?
Adan: Honestly, yes things are getting better. More kids are interested in
00:24:00college. Ever Since I've started leading the youth, a lot of kids are more
interested in going to college and basically thinking about focusing on their
career and everything else. A few years ago kids didn't do that at a very young
age and so we are limited in that, very few numbers. Mostly kids are focused on
their future rather than trying to continue the generational curse.
Trevor: What are some things you do today, do you work do you go to school just
like what is your day to day life?
Adan: Actually I work at the sheraton station square hotel, and I am head of a
department there basically like a manager there.
Abdi: What do you do for the youth in the community? You said more youth are
focused more in school rather than following the generation curse. What are some
things you are providing that or some things that are provided in the community
that the youth can look forward to?
Adan: Okay so basically what I do for the community is like basically encourage
00:26:00the kids to stay in school and stay focused and there is more to life than just
getting married and staying in a secluded area you know. Such as Northview
Heights, it's so secluded where the kids have no chance to live their life. They
get out of high school, and then after that, after high school, they are bound
to get married, and it's not fair at all.
Trevor: Some people might be listening to this interview who are research the
refugee experience, or they don't know anything about refugees. Is there
00:27:00something you want them to know if they don't know anything?
Adan: All I want them to know we are not too much-- some people are too scared
to say something or ask things or do certain things-- we are not strict people,
you know we are open, open-minded. Even for our parents, we we are open-minded,
we are welcoming. We love sharing our story out there, because like us Bantu
community are not known. People are just finding out about the Bantu tribe. For
00:28:00anybody if they are nervous they are more than welcome to ask any questions they
are not aware of. They do not have to worry about cultural beliefs or religious
beliefs you know. So like we are very open-minded and very welcoming people. And
please try our food. When you come to a Bantu home you are offered food, and
everything else so just like eat the food even a little bite, one bite.
Abdi: What advice would you have for future generation in the somali-bantu
community or just future generation out there in america or the world?
Adan: One advice is like, take as many chances as you can. You are only given
one, in life. Take nothing for granted, humble yourself, and appreciate what you
are given. If nothing has happened to you, you have to be a go-getter. Sitting
around, laying around, waiting for opening is not going to happen. So one thing
I'll leave them with is basically hard work pays off in the long run. Like it
may not happen overnight, but if you are patient enough, and you keep doing what
00:30:00you are doing, and keep working and stay focused, state your goal and stick to
it, I'll tell them, I promise you, it will always work out. Its life living
proof for me. I didn't take school seriously when I was younger, so that is the
biggest regret I have in life that I didn't take enough chances. In school I
didn't go out and get opportunities. I was waiting for people to give me and
hand things out to me. But as I grow older like I will seek my own
opportunities, and everything else, and I stay focused, and I know what I want.
Now I know what life I want to live, and now I'm basically making my own moves
of what I want to be in life. Some things I find on my own where I want to be
00:31:00something else, but now I'm really good at this other thing that I really like;
so I can say I'm basically a community leader, and I'm really good at that. So,
I think that through my job I use that experience and my job to basically
elevate me in a higher position.
Abdi: Thank you for the interview. THat is all the questions we have today.
Adan: Thank you.