Friday, January 16, 2015

Validating the American Dream: A Review of Hamse Warfa’s America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope

Cover of the text released before Christmas 2014
Langston Hughes bemoans the American dream that for him once appeared relentlessly deferred in his enlivening poem “Dream Deferred”. At the time of his writing, it can be argued that most American citizens and especially those of Black descent had systemically been marginalised from the American social, political and economic opportunities. Hence as a Negro writer and one of the voices in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes abrogated himself the responsibility of being a mouth piece of his generation and humanity in general.
Moreover, there have been numerous writings related to the trope of the American dream with Barrack Obama paying homage to it through his autobiography Dreams from my Father. Close at home, Kenya, we have had Ken Walibora pen one in Kiswahili language Ndoto ya Amerika “The American Dream”. Thus, it would appear that the American dream is strongly embedded in our imaginations especially for those of us in postcolonial societies who gaze at America as the epicentre of our economic liberation.
It is not surprising then to read about the success story of a young man with Somali roots having discovered self-actualisation within the realms of the American dream. America Here I come: A Somali Refugees Quest for Hope is the memoir of Hamse Warfa, a Somali citizen and a former refugee in Dadaab, Kenya. It has been published by Sunshine Publishing USA, 2014. This memoir describes the miraculous escape of Hamse and his family from the war-torn Somali, cheating death, scavenging for food as refugees in Kenya and the eventual asylum in the USA.
It adopts a simple structure: language and sentences which aptly capture the emotions and varying temperaments of the numerous conditions that Hamse’s family have to contend with especially in their dangerous trek from Somali to Kenya. The images of the war demonstrate the ravages of civil strife and its effect on families and especially children. The memoir is laden with traumatic experiences especially when a child witnesses the decimation of his family right before his eyes: Whilst lying and pretending to be dead, a young man brushes with death thus, “This one isn’t dead!” says a male voice. He [the boy] can feel shadows crossing over him. Having held his breath for far too long, he is almost giving up now.” The psychical impact of such and others much later as narrated in the text serves to illustrate the demeaning nature of war.
 America Here I come is characterised by tensions, fear and the horror of death. It is a narrative that brings hunger pangs to reality and it reminds us how demeaning it is not to be able to fend for your loved ones. Exploring issues of masculinity, gender and postcoloniality, the memoir vivifies the aspects of alienation that can be resultant effects of patriarchal, political, social and economic misalignments. It is a warning that a dehumanised being is capable of derangement and committing acts of human rights abuse.
Clan affiliations in Somali have been indicted for hard-line positions that have contributed to the fragmentation of the country and fuelled the civil war. The main culprit is seen as selfishness which the protagonist sees as a consequence of capitalist economies. Both the civil war and the piracy in the Indian Ocean have been interlinked in an effort to educate the audience that there are many underlying factors at play in the destruction of Somali as opposed to the common myths peddled through the media.   
Levels of marginalisation are appropriately captured through different lenses. For instance, there is one time that the narrator and his family are treated as second class refugees something that a reader would not consider in all probable circumstances. The memoir goes ahead to demystify the myth that all Somalis are terrorists. In fact this is one myth that contributes to the suffering of the narrator and his family because they are perceived with suspicion almost everywhere they go in their quest to settle down and rediscover peace.
Issues of race are not overlooked either. It is surprising that the narrator and his family feel like outcasts whilst in Nairobi whereas one would imagine that they would be welcome especially amongst the Kenya-Somalis. Hamse shows that human beings use any means possible to discriminate against each other – creed, religion, race etc. Much later, and in America specifically, the question of race and religion re-emerges and the family has to persevere to overcome insurmountable challenges so as to comfortably fit in in an alien country and amongst strangers.
This is a story of endurance and sheer determination. Hamse and his family are able to find their footing, get educated and establish their livelihoods in America. The memoir suggests the possibility of the American dream that is embedded in personal sacrifice, humility and love from loved ones. The narrator says: “Fortunately, faith in God, personal decisions I have made, love and guidance from family, friends and teachers have prevented me from letting circumstances dictate my life”. This is the spirit that culminates in the narrator’s achievements even as he strives to attain the highest possible human endeavour possible within his career prospects.
Hamse’s memoir spells hope and forgiveness. It is a story that behoves reconciliation and peace for the Somali nation. In between the narrative, the reader also gleans the virtues of honesty and hard work. As a result, the memoir doubles up as an inspirational story that can be used to mentor others even as it pedagogically inculcates good morals amongst both the young and the elderly from all walks of life. I posit that, Hamse Warfa’s America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope validates the feasibility of the American dream.

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