Immigration Stories – South Sudan and the United States – An inspiring story of migration – by Madina Tall. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Middle school was when I learned that movement is one of the characteristics of living beings. Humans have been displacing themselves from the beginning of time, for a number of reasons. “My family told me to drop everything and leave”, that was the beginning of an inspirational migration story. When the pushes outweigh the pulls, there becomes a necessity to move and that is why Nyarieth Rieck left everything behind to make a better life for her and her family.
My essays focus is Nyarieth Rieck. She is the proud mother of six children, one of whom happens to be my roommate and best friend. I had the absolute honor of interviewing her over a video call while she cooked one of favorite traditional foods from her beloved home called Malag. Mrs. Rieck’s migration story is one that touched my heart, changed my perception of migrants and one of course, that I will never forget. She, her husband and her cousins fled war in their home country of South Sudan in 1995 to find better opportunities from themselves and their struggling families at home. After a year-long process of getting the necessary documents, they finally moved from Gambela to Nashville, Tennessee where she had the chance to live her life outside of constant fear for her safety.
Humans are afraid of death. A concept that propagandist use as a technique is one of the main reasons Mrs. Rieck migrated. She absolutely loved her country, thrived in the community and had already found a husband to settle down and have a family with. Why would she, willfully, just up and leave everything? This exact question came up in our class discussions as well; how bad did the situation have to be to leave your home to go somewhere that is completely foreign and uncomfortable for you? No other options. She left her home, arrived in the United States and suffered to get to where she is today. “We were on our own, we did not know anyone, we had no jobs, I was pregnant and we did not speak the language very well and we had no support from anyone”.
Our identity is a crucial part of our existence. We use our identity to understand and learn more about ourselves. “When I first arrived in the US it occurred to me that I did not look or sound like anyone else. It was very difficult at first but after a while, it helped me realize how proud I am to be a Nuer from South Sudan”.
Another aspect that plays a role in the whole migration process is the host countries opinions and attitude about these incoming migrants. Are they seen as new neighbors or parasites who have arrived to destroy the economy? This is another important issue that Mrs. Rieck struggled with when she moved away from her home. When asked what story she would share with her new neighbors she beautifully said “I used to wake up at 5am to be ready for school, I would walk a long journey to arrive at school where I was always the number one student! When school finished, my mom was still making dinner so me and my friends would meet at The Nile river and go for a swim. We would be there until sundown or until my mother called me back. We all enjoyed life, no technology! I would tell these neighbors that my home was perfect. It was peaceful, beautiful, everyone was loving and you felt a sense of home.” It was very interesting to see the varying perspectives that people have. Nyarieth is a strong woman who works hard at her job to provide for her family here and all the way back home. We discussed as a class that countries do not want to know about the migrants’ presence necessarily but they want to see their work paying off in said country. Mrs. Rieck is a living, breathing example of that hard work.
Power plays the most important roles on the migrants of today, especially. Man-made borders, public policy debates on refugees, immigrant laws etc. people above you get to decide and alter one’s identity in more ways than one could count. Often migrants are essentially puppets being controlled by powers that are out of their control. Nyarieth Rieck never let these factors bring her down, however. “I can now work freely, my children have endless opportunities and I can financially support my family back in South Sudan, that is all I need”.
In this day and age particularly, migration is a risky and scary process to go through. Although she has been here for twenty-three years now, she still faces challenges at her new home. “I always miss the food at home. Ah! If I could bring back one dish from home it would be Koop. The flour is not the same here, the plants and the spices are not enough either! I just remember going to Church very early on Sunday morning and coming back to that smell of Koop.” Food is one that she discusses a lot but there is one important aspect that was rather difficult for her to talk about. “I left my entire family in war and poverty, I left my own mother behind to make a better life for myself. I have been here for a long time and I have never gone back since. I struggle with the fact that I may never see my mother and my family again.”
Leaving one’s home and only having a fading memory to remember the details can be hard on a person. Mrs. Rieck was lucky enough to bring a photo of her mother and as she says “it always reminds me to stay strong because one of the reasons I need to stay strong is to help her”. She keeps this photo on her bed-frame to look at every night. Migrants are people with feelings and families, let’s treat them as such.
One of the most important aspects of migration that I think we often forget about is human dignity and nature. When thinking about migration and the issues around it, let’s focus on our nature. Humans are meant to move, humans are afraid of death, humans are rational beings who will seek out the best for themselves. Let’s listen to, appreciate and respect individual stories before making a judgement about a migrant that could have been or might be you one day.
From Professor Liang’s Fall 2018 Introduction to Political “Science”. Madina Tall serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
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