I became a naturalized U.S citizen on Jan. 17, 2020, just as the United States was starting off its election year.

I have lived in three countries in my life. One is Somalia, my native country. Two is Kenya, where I escaped to safety, and third is the United States after winning the Green Card Lottery. I did not have the power to participate in a democracy until now. At age 35, I could not be more proud to vote in the U.S than anywhere else in the world.

The civil war in Somalia took the lives of many, including my own sister. I lived to survive there, not to participate. Clan rivalry caused death and destruction. There was no government to protect us. The smell of gunpowder and the smell of blood are still vivid memories in my mind.

I entered Kenya at midnight in early March 2011 seeking asylum. I became a registered refugee. My name appeared on the database of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

It all started for me only this year. And this is the election that will be the first of my life and the most historic.

As I cast my vote, I think of my family, my community and my new country, U.S.A. Where America is today seems an embarrassment to me as I celebrate the citizenship. There is a travel ban that won’t allow my family to fly here to join me. It worries me as an individual since anything could happen during my permanent residence here in Maine. My community was worried about ICE, immigration roundups and deportations. This was not how I saw America before I moved here. I did not expect to live in fear. But America during the Black Lives Matter movement and America during the travel ban is a constant worry for anyone like me who recently immigrated here.

These are the issues that I care about as I cast my vote this year. Whichever candidate can restore unity in the country, one that can bring America together and stop the fear and the ban will be the one who gets my vote. It certainly is not the current president. It is great to see that my Somali community is politically awake in this election. We talk about the election at the dinner table and even during prayers at the mosque. There is much effort we are placing on helping the elderly be able to vote. Some would have never figured out how to apply for the absentee ballots. Many need interpretation and navigation into the system. I personally help anybody with translations, navigation and also analyzing the news headlines in our native language.

I hear many American express their desire to leave the U.S and go to Canada. Don’t say this to an immigrant. It is important to understand that moving and crossing borders as a way of escape is not an easy process and most immigrants have experienced this at least once in their lives. When I landed on U.S. soil six years ago, I kissed the ground and thought the physical part of my journey ended. To me, this was the dead end. I thought I was done with escaping and crossing borders. Let’s not leave the country, let’s use our voices and our votes to be the good change our country needs. If we don’t, we may be risking losing the little bit we have today.

I know what a civil war looks like, I know what displacement and destruction look like. I saw my family flee. I also saw my country plunge into wars that we never came out of. I can lose one thing once, but I can’t lose the same thing twice. Here I have a country, I earned it, I am here to stay. I am in the “We The People” now. It maybe a long way until America reshapes itself, until Black people have full rights and freedoms. I am patient and I am resilient. But we should defend our country from anyone who harms our values and our exceptionalism.

I am an immigrant, none of my ancestors were born here, but I am here to belong and that’s the America that I know.

Abdi Iftin, a resident of Yarmouth, is the author of  “Call Me American.” 

Comments are not available on this story.