Yesterday, I met The American Dream in East Texas. (Not Dusty Rhodes, RIP). I met a man in East Texas during a focus group interview on safety and security in houses of worship. This story is about the man, not safety and security, not guns or gun culture. But it is a story I very much want to share.
My colleague asked this man how old he is. 64 he said, though he looked older. She asked him if he was retired or still working. “Oh, I will never stop working. Never stop,” he responded in heavily accented English. “He is still learning English,” our host told us, though we could understand him perfectly well.
The man told us he works on the line at a local chicken processing plant. A hard, dirty job, I thought to myself, probably right down there with harvesting lettuce. But to him it was a good job. He liked the rules and order in the plant.
28 years ago, when the civil war broke out in Somalia, this man fled to the border. He lived for 22 years in a refugee camp in Kenya before he was relocated to Fort Worth in 2013. He subsequently moved to this East Texas community. “I never want to move again,” he said with the smile that was always on his face when he told his story. “Never, never.”
With evident pride he told us his son is a supervisor at the same plant. Many Somalis who work at the plant walk to work because they can’t afford cars.
He and the other Somalis are Muslims. The women wear hijabs. When they walk down the roads to work no one bothers them much, though occasionally people will call them terrorists and tell them to get out of America.
A new manager at the plant has created a prayer room for the Muslim employees, and his supervisor often tells him to take 10 minutes from working the line to go pray.
Though his past was heartbreaking, I was also heartened to hear this man’s story. It is a version of the American dream, like so many American dreams that play themselves out in the mundane lives of the people who come here for a better life, and find it. As they long have. As I hope they will continue to do.