Habiba Boru, a refugee from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, began her speech at City Hall for the World Refugee Day celebration by chronicling the struggles of refugees.
“We have witnessed wars, loved ones dying, women getting raped before our own eyes,” said Boru, 27, who arrived in the United States in 2000. “Through it all, we have survived to come to a land like this, full of opportunity and promise. People here have chosen to believe in us.”
In her speech, Boru thanked Mayor Stephanie Miner for joining the refugee cause, the Syracuse City Police for keeping their neighborhoods safe and the city of Syracuse for welcoming refugees with available housing and resources.
“Our children come and are given a quality education to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers,” Boru said. “Women are given opportunities to be something here in the United States, which does not always exist in the countries we have traveled from.”
Boru led the parade from City Hall to the World Refugee Day festival in Hanover Square on Saturday, June 22. More than 12 different refugee communities were represented at the festival performances, including the Wazigua tribe of Somalia, the Oromo people of Ethiopia, the Karen and Chin peoples of Burma, the Central African Republic, Cuba, the Darfuri of Sudan, Bhutan, China, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
We asked two refugees at the festival to reflect on how their futures have been shaped by starting new lives in Syracuse. Both followed their fathers to the United States and both have not returned to their home country since leaving.
Yusimy Gay-Martinez, Cuba
Yusimy Gay-Martinez, 34, was granted asylum by the United States because her father was a political prisoner under the Communist Party of Cuba. She arrived in Miami from Pinar del Rio in 1998 and moved to Syracuse a day later, on Thanksgiving.
Since she didn’t have family in the U.S., Catholic Charitiesof Syracuse took her and her father through their refugee resettlement services.
Gay-Martinez and her husband,David Gay, brought their children, David Jr., 6, and Yazmine Estelle, 2, to the World Refugee Day celebration, where David Jr. greeted Nepali passers-by with a cheerful “Namaste!”
Their son David Jr., known as “Nuny,” proudly announced he was Cuban-American, before rattling off the capitals of Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines and offering to sing in Japanese.
“My son is definitely a product of the refugee community,” Gay said, who speaks six languages himself. “I want him to care about people from everywhere.”
Gay-Martinez enjoys living on the North Side of Syracuse, where her neighbors are Nepali, Burmese and Cuban. She believes the refugee community brings flavor to Syracuse.
Gay-Martinez could technically return to Cuba under the terms of the Cuban government, but she doesn’t want to. Neither does her father.
“It is dangerous,” said Gay-Martinez. “If something happens while you’re there, they can actually keep you there. You never know what they’re going to do to you while you’re there.”
Lugendo Muya, Tanzania
Lugendo Muya has been cooking, cleaning and taking care of his father since he was 8. He learned English two weeks after moving to the U.S.
“I love being around my dad,” said Muya, 19. “I’m good with elders.”
He didn’t realize he was a refugee until he came to the United States. He doesn’t remember a bad life in Tanzania.
Muya was born in Handeni, one of eight districts of the Tanga Region in Tanzania.
He was the fourth of six children.
In 2004, he and his father, Mberwa Mahadu, moved to the U.S. through the Catholic Charities refugee resettlement organization, while the rest of his family stayed in Tanzania.
Before coming to the U.S., Muya remembers living in a refugee camp in Kenya called Kakuma 2 where his father had his first stroke.
His father, 55, has since suffered a second stroke. Now that Muya is old enough to have many questions about why they left, his father can no longer speak.
Before the strokes, Muya’s father would always repeat the phrase, “Soma,” which means “study” or “read” in Kizigua, a dialect of Swahili.
“He wants everyone to be educated,” Muya said. “When I came home from school, he encouraged me to study right away before going out to play or cooking food.”
So that’s what Muya is doing. After graduating Nottingham High School in 2012, Muya enrolled at Onondaga Community College to study physical therapy. He will start an internship as a physical therapy assistant at SUNY Upstate Medical University this summer.
“As long as I knew I had options, I took them,” Muya said. “I had a lot of open doors for me, so I want to open doors for other people.”
He misses his family. He has a lot of questions. He plans to finish college and try to return to Tanzania with his father in 2015. He ultimately wants to work in the United States.