ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION
Interviewee: Aweys Mwaliya Interviewers: Keegan Phillips, Henry Sutter, RebekahAlexander, Yadira Snchez-Esparza Date of Interview: Sunday, April 14, 2019 Location of Interview: The Global Switchboard, 305 34th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 Interview Transcribed By: Keegan Phillips (0:00-12:12); Henry Sutter (12:13-24:16); Rebekah Alexander (24:17-35:02); Yadira Snchez-Esparza (35:03-45:18)
Yadira Sanchez-Esparza (YSE): Recording. Do we say all of our names?
Rebekah Alexander (RA): I would assume so, yes.
YSE: What is your name?
Keegan Phillips (KP): Keegan Phillips.
RA: Rebekah Alexander.
Henry Sutter (HS): Henry Sutter.
YSE: Yadira Sanchez-Esparza. Can you say your name?
Aweys Mwaliya (AM): Aweys Mwaliya.
YSE: And today is?
KP: April 14th.
YSE: April 14th and we are at the Global Switchboard on April 14, 2018.
YSE: 2019. Sorry.
RA: Do we have your permission to use your name in the published portions ofthis interview?
RA: So, where were you born?
AM: I was born in Somalia.
RA: Can you describe your childhood home to us?
AM: I was born in Somalia in a small village. It was a village and also it00:01:00looked like a farm. So, it was a very green village, meaning we have these fruits like the mango, the coconut trees, and the timir trees, so we were like in the shade. It was so beautiful living there. I spent two years of my young life, meaning I can remember the two years that I was living there. It was so fun.
KP: You say it was very beautiful and was very fun. Do you have any particularfavorite childhood memory that you still carry to this day?
AM: Yes, as I talk to you and most of the time I talk to people about my00:02:00childhood like you guys, and as long as I talk to people like that, it reminds me of back home. What I don't forget is we had our village. Inside the village we had a lot of coconut trees. And again, just like a two-minute walk away from the village we had like these mango trees all lined up. So, what I do remember is going to these mango trees with my friends and we didn't even have to come back for lunch. We had all the things over there. The pineapples were there. Mango trees were there, and we spent all day and weekends like Saturday. Over 00:03:00there we didn't have Saturday, we had Friday and Thursday. These two days we didn't go to school. And you don't see any child inside the village during this day, going in there.
RA: So, did you have school on Saturdays and Sundays?
AM: Yes, different worlds.
HS: Where else have you lived?
AM: I lived in the refugee camp of Kenya.
HS: What memories do you have there?
AM: The refugee camp I have a memory, but I will say we were like in...I don'tknow how to describe it because the restriction of playing outside and also we didn't have the resources that we had back home. So, the memories that I have in 00:04:00the refugee camps are really memories like you can move from nowhere except going to school and coming back home and worried about food and safety, meaning if you really go outside of the camp...We lived in blocks, like caged blocks, like a couple, I would say like five hundred or four hundred or three hundred bushes like that's how we lived. So, each like section had about five hundred 00:05:00
or two hundred houses. So, we had like a certain time where you can be out ofthat section, you have to go inside, so that's how life was. So, it was really a terrible life then what I have faced in Somalia before the war.
RA: Were you able to go to school at all there?
AM: Yes, I went. I would say Somalia before the war happened, I went to school.I would say I remember going to school in Somalia for one year and then going to Kenya. I went to school for almost eight years, meaning I went to school more in Kenya than in Somalia. 00:06:00
KP: How old were you when you went to the refugee camp in Kenya?
AM: If you look into many refugees like myself, when it comes to date of birth,it is not recorded. But I will say I would be around age 10 at that time.
HS: Did you receive any schooling at all in the United States?
AM: What is it?
HS: Did you go to school at all within the United States?
AM: Yes, I went to some training centers but not really, and I've never been toa formal school where I would say that I can get a degree or something like that.
RA: Do you still maintain any type of connection or communication with familyfrom Somalia or Kenya?
AM: Yes. Mostly in Kenya we are still connected through Facebook and also other00:07:00social media like WhatsApp, all these.
RA: So, you said you lived in Utah briefly. Can you talk a little bit about whenyou arrived in the United States and where you were placed originally?
AM: In Utah, yes. I lived in Utah. It's really unique to where I lived. I camein 2004 to the United States and that was my first place to live. You know coming from the refugee camp in Kenya and then before there I lived in a small village where life was basic so meaning in our whole village there wasn't any traffic, like cars or anything like that. So, my first time coming in contact 00:08:00with money, vehicles, or other things that can be found in town was in Kismayo which is a town outside of my village in Somalia, and then I came into Kenya, where I have seen different stuff there. Coming to Utah which was Salt Lake City was a big thing for me than any other thing I had seen in Somalia. So, one of the things in Somalia, we lived in a basic house where we didn't have any lights. We didn't even need them. And also,
we never had anything called paperwork. No signature. Nothing. And we alsodidn't have any traffic, like cars going around. Then coming to Kismayo, the 00:09:00traffic was there but we didn't also have any paperwork or things like that. In the refugee camp, it was the same thing. So, in Kenya, I mean in Utah, the things that...everything about Utah is different than whatever I have seen in Somalia. An example, we didn't have to pay rent, here we had to pay rent. We didn't have to really work for gas, or things like that, bills like that. Also, when it comes to medical in Somalia or in Kenya we didn't have to really. We lived through our culture and tradition, meaning everything was cultural. We had 00:10:00cultural doctors and also we didn't have to have this immunizations or anything. All these things were new to me when I came into Salt Lake City.
RA: How was that process of adjustment, of seeing this new type of reality out here?
AM: Personally, I am still I would say learning and given my community, where wedidn't even live in towns apart from what we are living today because in both Kenya and in Somalia, we didn't have to really. We didn't have people who were here before, meaning everybody who came as myself, we are really, this is like 00:11:00our first generation coming here. So, we have other communities, let's say. And, I don't know if you guys know, but I belong to the Somali-Bantu, so there are a lot of people from Somalia. So, the Bantus never been to the U.S. before 2003 or 2004, meaning this is our first time getting here. So, the struggle still exists when it comes to the access of medical and also adapting to the system, and of medical, how people go to checkup and how people go to the hospital when they feel a certain illness. This is really new to me. So, when it comes to the law 00:12:00and the policy and still that also is struggle for me and my community.
KP: What would you say is your favorite part about the United States and yourleast favorite part; would it be the adjustment period or something else maybe?
AM: My favorite part of the United States is this: it's a country ... if you seeSomalia where I came from and it's a country where people have one religion and also they speak one language and also share the same culture. So that has really made me really a little bit behind from what the world is today. And this is, 00:13:00when it comes to the U.S., this is totally different where you see many different people. So I like the diversity and people welcoming and trying to learn about us. So, and again, what I like about the U.S. is that although thre is some problems of racial issues, when it comes to Somalia, the voices are of people challenging these kinds of problems less than the ones who are really advocating for it, and here in the U.S. you got a lot of people saying "no" to it than people saying "yes" to it, meaning the voices for people like my 00:14:00community here in the U.S. it really can be heard unless the
community itself doesn't want to really be heard. So that's something that Ilike about the U.S. And when it comes to where I came from, and even both Kenya and also Somalia, you got ... although the justice system here is really, you know, but it works, most of the time than what I have seen back home, and so that's another thing that I will say in Somalia, what I have seen when it comes to the justice system is that it doesn't work at all ... it works for certain 00:15:00people which ... majority and the minorities are really no one wants to care about them. So, in Kenya, it works when you have money, also that's the same kind of life in Somalia too. So here, it's different ... still while people are working on it, but I will say it is better than what I have seen in both countries, Somalia and Kenya. So the treatment here it's just, it depends, the people how they really ... how they want to be heard, while over there even if your voice ... if you want to be heard nobody's gonna listen, so yeah. So that's 00:16:00what I like about the U.S. anyway.
YSE: So you talked about Utah and how you originally were there: How did you gofrom coming to America in Utah and now you're like a leader, I would say, in the Somali-Bantu community? Would you say that you're a leader?
AM: Yes. Our group, our community ... the resettlement process of our communitywas unique and what makes us unique was we were the largest number of refugees in 2000 in the U.S. offered to resettle here in America, meaning the Somali-Bantus were the largest ever refugee group from Africa to be settled here 00:17:00and it doesn't mean like we are the largest but to settle in one time we were the largest, meaning 10,000 individuals were being given the opportunity to come here, so that was the first time that big number of people to be offered to come here. So that came with a challenge, a very big challenge ... what I do remember is that from Nairobi to New York, the whole flight was Somali-Bantu. So the flight attendant I asked because that was my first time to fly myself, I'd never been on a plane and never even close to a plane and I asked, I say, "Is this how you guys fly?" And she said no this is even for her it was unique because always 00:18:00refugees and other passengers they were mixed up, but this time was like all refugees on the plane. Over on the plane, I had to translate and also even act as a leader at the same time. When people make a lot of complaints because ... and over there by the time we got to New York, this guy says, "Oh, these people not only on the plane but also even where you going, where you going to be living, they will need help. So it was Friday when I landed into the U.S., which was in Salt Lake City, and then I find out a woman who had been settled before me, and she was a single and also had a daughter who was sick, and again we came 00:19:00in and it was like at night, so we landed at night, and in the morning it's going to be Saturday, so her case worker, her refugee case worker, said to me she's not working on weekends, and again, they didn't have an interpreter, and everybody didn't speak English, I was the only one who spoke a little English, so I had to translate for her. Again, the case manager, who was also my case manager, suggested that our community needed a lot of help, so that's how I get to get involved and to become a community leader from that day.
RA: Within the Somali-Bantu community, do you see any type of generational00:20:00differences between parents who were ... and their children who were maybe raised in the United States, or more of a continuous culture?
AM: I think that's a very good question, and yes, there is generationaldifferences. One is the English language. The language is, and our dialects are really going away. The two kids that were in here were both born here; the thing is that they can understand my dialect, but they can't say it, and also those that are older than them, the same thing. Those who even, Abdi, your classmate, he came here when he was like five-years-old as I can remember. He went to like 00:21:00elementary here, so I don't think he can really fully speak the language unless he can understand it. So even those who have been here ten years, when they came here and were ten-years are really different, and the bigger issue is that they live in a house where the culture is really different than the culture they're growing up, so what I have seen it's like two people living in the same house and not even look like they live in the same house, meaning that really, I will say Abdi and his parents might not even have parental and child relationship, 00:22:00meaning if he's home, he may be going to his room, where his mom and other people and his dad, or I will say the siblings that are older than him might be in the same different place, so meaning that's kind of the changes that we're seeing. When it comes to culture we are seeing another shift; the younger generation in our community when it comes to family, mostly the parents decide. They say, oh this is how we need you study your own family, but this is changed now, so again it's like their choice whoever this is. So again when it comes to 00:23:00family and husband and wife and also we see that's a very big change over there where at home, female or women were to stay home and look after the children while the men are supposed to go and work, and here both genders are working, and when it comes to decision making the guys in our community was in Somalia or in the refugee camp they were the only ones coming with a decision. That has also shifted again.
YSE: How do you preserve that? How do you preserve a dialect or pass that on ina place where there are 10,000 of you in the United States, but as a community you're maybe smaller than the Latino community or other groups? How do you 00:24:00preserve it?
YSE: How do you preserve, like, the culture?
AM: How do we preserve the culture?
YSE: Yeah, how do you pass it onto the children or keep it alive?
AM: The way we used to be passing on the culture was through events and also thepractice, but now I will say when I go outside of town, outside Pittsburgh, I can see a similarity of our culture with the Amish people. But, again, I will say it's not going to be like the Mexican community, or the Hispanic community for us [the Somali-Bantu community] because this, our culture, I will say is 00:25:00gone, and the risk. And I wouldn't because one thing is that I see the practice is not going to happen because we are really already in town, not like in a small town, but we are living in a big town and that really comes with a very big risk for us in the culture. And again, when it comes to, let's say when I was in the refugee camp, and even there was a risk going back to Somalia, but it was really close and again we lived just people with a similar culture meaning and the refugee camp those who live together were the people from Ethiopia. The culture was really kind of similar. We had the Sudanese culture [which was] 00:26:00similar, and then the majority was Somalis, so that is still, we couldn't really practice the culture there. So, when we are talking about Pittsburgh, and it's not even a small town, it's a very big town and even it's not even close to where we came from. So, while the Hispanic community is just across the border, so that culture is still close enough for them; for us is really across yeah you have to cross the ocean, or things like that. The culture is more risk passing on and it's not gonna be passing on. I don't see my children will really practice that.
RA: Do you think that kind of coincides with language barriers, and how parents00:27:00and children are having difficulty communicating effectively with each other?
AM: Yeah, I think that, and it's a part of it, like I said. And you can look,the children at school, and they come together as people, who speak English, so meaning you got this different young children going to school with my children, and each children going to the same school they don't really speak the same language: So, they are united in one language which is English; so, let's say myself, I am more connected with people, who speaks my dialect, while my children are really connected with their new friends, so, and that's where it's 00:28:00coming again----even the dialect is going away, yeah.
HS: Does your family, or community have any special sayings, or expressions,like are there any words that are unique to your community?
AM: Yes, there is a lot of sayings. One is, like, let's say, and mostly whilethere is a lot, but they say let us "not talk too much but let's move on." This was, I mean, i[t] was [the] saying in our community. And this is when it comes to move on, we always talk a lot, [and] then we really act on it, so. And that's 00:29:00really [a] very big wise saying, according to how our community is moving forward in [the] time of life. So, that's mostly coming a lot, and a lot, whenever we are talking, yeah.
KP: Overall, would you say that you and your community members have experiencedwelcoming, or have you encountered any racism at any point in your time in the United States, or mostly a sense of welcoming would you say?
AM: Yeah, when it comes to what we have experienced, I personally see happen, inSomalia, was someone, who will call me a servant----you are my servant [and] I 00:30:00will eat first before you eat. I have seen this in restaurant, personally, and which is a painful thing; and I have seen [this] walking on the street with my sister [and] someone can come and slap her because [of] the way she look like; and I have seen, also myself, being really harassed like that, so. And that went on and [on], until we came to the refugee camp, so. Then we, when we came into the refugee camp, again, everyone from Somalia was being looked [at] differently by the people of Kenya. So, meaning again, we were being racially harassed, or 00:31:00because of our country of origin [they would say] you destroyed your country, [and that] you are not peaceful people. Wherever [we] work, and if you go to a restaurant people go up and ask you a question, even [when] we look like, let's say, the Kenyan. I'm coming from a part of the bundles group. Some of my tribes live in Kenya, but they are not Somalian like I am, but they are there in Kenya, you know. But if I say I'm from Somalia, they look me differently, so when I came into the U.S. I see that happening, but it didn't really happen to me directly where I can say someone said to me this. But I have a friend where they 00:32:00openly talk about Muslim[s], and when it comes to religious, it hurts me, but the thing is that he is my friend and he knows that I am a Muslim too. So, the thing is that he doesn't say [that] because he hates me. He's just [says it] because [of] whatever he heard about the religion, but, we are, we get along this is a great thing that has been said. But [the] other thing I will say is, that similar thing[s] happened with the young kids, when they go to school might be encounter with problems, like you are from Somalia [therefore] you guys are terrorists, things like that happen, but this is not something that have been said directly to me. And I remember in Utah, and at a traffic stop, and a 00:33:00sheriff, who happened to be an African American say to me, "hey, you guys are the ones, who really brought that Black Hawk Down down" [and] that's really affected me, you know. And the 1993 event that happened in Somalia, so I was like, I wasn't even know what happened, [and] what he, [and] why he was saying that, but, again, another officer came and say sorry because of that language. Until, he said that, I didn't feel that this guy was racially really harassing me because I'm from Somalia. So, that's one thing that I have seen. When it comes to Pittsburgh, when I see it differently than in Salt Lake City. I work 00:34:00with refugee communities and this is started when I came in to the U.S. when in Salt Lake City. When you see the neighborhoods here, and you can see the is based on racial--where you see the Italians, and also the Jewish, and also the African American, so that, again, gives me a picture that racial problem [that] also exists in this country. [The] people still do not really feel guilty because bad, and it's just politically people say it is bad, while the practice is there. So, that's how I see it. 00:35:00
RA: Is there any other topics that we haven't talked about that you'd like thepublic to know about your experience?
AM: No, at this moment until if you guys have anymore questions I would be happyto answer and visit on my experience of life.
HS: What holidays do you celebrate in your community like which are the mostimportant holidays that your families celebrate?
AM: Yeah and when it comes to culturally and sometime when I look andThanksgiving events here and also the Halloween and I don't know how they came to exist here. While we did have them back home in Somalia and that sometime I look into those holidays that and then I see that people are all coming from the 00:36:00same kind of ya know culture. And we had...we call it different way, but when it comes to those holidays that happen apart from the Christmas even the Christmas I will say we have ....we have that religiously. While here it is religiously but again the culture that I...the holidays that I can associate with my culture mostly here are the Thanksgiving and also the Halloween events. We had them where and we practiced I mean... I mean we celebrated and and our culture and the same way and and the same way halloween is practiced but over there our culture don't call it. And and holidays but we have the the month I will say and 00:37:00I don't remember but when it comes to harvesting we had this cultural events that are going for or at least for one month or two months. All the way but they all look like Halloween yeah.
RA: I had a question about you talked about the Italians and Jewish communitiesand kind of like the segregation of different types of people. Do you think that is kind of difficult or obstructing how Somali-Bantu community is integrating into the fuller community?
AM: Yeah...and when you look and I lived personally here in Lawrenceville so andin 2004 if you could walk on the street you could always see a woman from my 00:38:00culture. And you could see that you know this neighborhood here was kind of diverse neighborhood but now you can walk all the way and not see a single person from Somalia. And...the segregation is there when you have like a community that which came from a village with no educational background the jobs available for them is only and cleaning and also low wage jobs. And then if you say oh here you can live here if you can pay at least $1,400 of a rent for three bedroom while the families are just ya know the largest I mean the least of our 00:39:00family are five the biggest 10 and the majority are 10 and eight. So meaning our families consist of eight people or 10 people so and then when you have a the guy who could provide for these resources of the family only working for $8.00 an hour. And you tell them you know and the rent for two to three bedrooms is only and you can live here if you can pay at least $1,400 not including the gas and other thing so over there you telling that you don't need the community at all. And that is really segregation who might come here who has the degree and 00:40:00who can pay this kind of money are the only people who with degrees. And those people who are with
degrees could be the Italians and or other people from different races they arethe ones who are who are lawyers who are doctors who could live in kind of these places. So when it comes to people like our community, or other communities, who are coming to the US or who lived even before us here with limited education that meaning that they are living here that can not live here. So that is how I see it yeah.
RA: As a community leader do you do you or any other organization kind of offerany resources or to help aid the community?
AM: I would like, I would like, I would say there are a lot of volunteers the00:41:00churches are helping and a lot of people are helping. But I what would really like is that and is to find like in Salt Lake City you I have my job was to look for houses for people who are coming. Regardless of what neighborhood you can see a neighborhood where their doctors were and people who were educated were living there. And again you can find an affordable house and you can see these people who are really making a lot money, still learning about the refugees. Because they are their neighbors and I would really like that also to happen 00:42:00here. But today, when it comes to housing and if somebody comes to help they might really look for a place where you can afford it. And those places might not be a good choice for a family but it becomes a choice, even if it is not a choice when the money, you have can only afford that location. So yeah, that kinda support exist yeah.
RA: Thank you very much for your time and is there any advice you would like togive to future generations or anyone listening possibly?
AM: I don't know but you know and the world is not like it use to be beforealready living together world is more close enough. So I will say and I don't 00:43:00think there is a way to get it separated like before people to live in a separate way. It is not going to go back there no way is it going there meaning we have to find a way to really live together so that is the only option now so there is no way going back to the separation that really divided us long time ago. So that is what I would say.
YSE: Thank you very much.
KP: Thank you.
RA: Thank you.
HS: I think we were suppose to lead with this but I would just like to read theconsent form just one time. This project will explore the experiences of people whom have migrated from one place to another. I am interested in understanding the role of migration in society through the words of migrants themselves. My intention as a researcher is to explore these experiences and narratives to 00:44:00better understand this history. I am likely to share your
interview content, in part or in full on the digital humanities web platformentitled: www.migrantstories.org. MigrantStories archives self-narrated migrant experiences to be made available to scholars and the public. These interviews offer a forum to disrupt and challenge current dominant public perceptions of migrants and refugees. This interview will last approximately 30 to 60 minutes. However, you can elect to end your participation at any time before or during the interview. You can elect to release all or part of your interview after the interview using the provided release form. If you have any questions about this project or the ways in which your content has been used, you can contact the chair of the Allegheny College Institutional Review Board and then there is an email provided. And so do you agree for your interview to be recorded in full? 00:45:00
HS: And you confirm you are older than 18 years of age?
HS: And you are voluntarily participating in this research?
HS: Thank you very much.
RA: It was a pleasure talking to you.
YSE: Thank you.
KP: Thank you.
(0:00-0:44) Introductions and Consent -- The four student interviewers and theinterviewee, Aweys Mwaliya, introduce themselves, stating their names. An interviewer then provides the date and location of the interview and Mwaliya verbally acknowledges his informed consent to be interviewed and for the interview to be published.
(0:44-3:26) Biographical Information/Childhood in Somalia -- Mwaliya describesthe Somali village where he lived as a child and relays his favorite memory of that period of his life.
(3:26-7:15) Experiences in Kenya/Continued Family Connections/Education --Mwaliya discusses his recollections of living in a Kenyan refugee camp, how he still maintains communication with family and friends there through social media platforms, and his educational background.
(7:15-10:18) Arrival in the U.S./Distinctions between Life Here and in Africa --Mwaliya recounts his first impressions of the United States (Salt Lake City, Utah), and details the many differences between living in his Somali village or Kenyan refugee camp and in Utah.
(10:18-12:12) Acclimation Process -- Mwaliya chronicles the struggles heencountered as a first-generation Somali-Bantu transitioning to life in the United States.
(12:12-16:05) Advantages of Life in the U.S. compared to Somalia/Kenya - Mwaliyacompares the positive aspects of the United States to experiences in Somalia and Kenya, especially diversity and mobility.
(16:05-19:57) Becoming a Community Leader - Mwaliya speaks about his role and aleader in the Somali-Bantu community in Pittsburgh and discusses how he came into this role shortly after arrival in the U.S.
(19:57-23:48) Generational and Cultural Differences - The discussion movestowards the cultural differences between Somalia/Kenya and the United States and how generational divides have emerged within the community.
(23:48-27:00) Loss and Lack of Preservation of Culture - The discussion centeredon Mwaliya's thoughts on Somali-Bantu culture. He spoke on how and why the erasure of Somali-Bantu culture in the United States, namely in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, occurs between generations. Topics also include the difficulty and sometimes impossibility of preserving and passing on culture.
(27:00-32:42) U.S. Resettlement and Somali-Bantu Community - Mwaliya discussestraditional sayings from the Somali-Bantu community. Mwaliya speaks on his experience when he first resettled in the United States as well as the reception from the local community in Salt Lake City, Utah and subsequently in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
(32:42-35:02) Racism in the U.S. - The discussion focused predominantly onMwaliya's perception of racism in the United States and his own (as well as friends' and family members') encounter with racism and discrimination within the United States.
(35:02-37:28) Holidays in the U.S/ Similarities in the Somali-Bantu Community -Mwaliya talks about how certain holidays in the United States such as Christmas and Halloween remind him of harvesting festivals in Somalia.
(37:28-40:49) Issue of Gentrification for Refugee Populations - Mwaliya speaksabout his experiences watching his neighborhood of Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania change due to gentrification and the negative effects on the Somali-Bantu community.
(40:49-42:33) Importance of Community Integration - Mwaliya compares Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania to his previous community in Salt Lake City, Utah in reference to affordable housing and integration of the community.
(42:33-43:35) Shift to a Globalized World - Mwaliya reflects that the world haschanged to become more interconnected internationally creating an even greater need to learn how to live together.
(43:35-45:18) Informed Consent Form/Closing Remarks - Henry Sutter reads thecomplete consent form to Mwaliya and restates the consent questions provided on the form.
Keyword Search Terms: Americanized Assimilation Culture Education GenerationalDifferences Gentrification Language Racism Segregation Social Media Struggle Village