I sit in a Starbucks sipping an Americano in Limerick, Ireland, as I write this piece. The music in the background is American jazz. It’s almost entirely like sitting in a Starbucks in the United States except I have to say, “I am from the United States,” when the barista asks where I am from.

I am not sure how to answer that question when people ask it of me in the U.S. It seems Americans are trying to push me away by asking such questions. Here in Ireland, though, there is pride in answering, “I am from the United States.”

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

I am here on a short vacation, thanks to American friends who live and work in Ireland and invited me to visit. This is my first trip outside of North America since I moved here and the first time I used my American passport to travel abroad.

My pride in America started at the Dublin airport as the Irish Naturalization and Immigration Services officer stamped my passport. This was a moment many refugees and asylum-seekers yearn for: the freedom to belong and travel freely.

The last time I flew over the Atlantic Ocean was in August 2014, when I permanently moved to the United States. I remember my face was glued to the airplane window as we descended into Logan Airport; the sight of America gave me feelings of freedom and joy.

The Homeland Security officer who interviewed me in Boston that day disrupted that moment of joy, however. His questions worried me, including why I left Somalia and if I had ever joined a terrorist group. I thought he was looking for an excuse to stop me from entering the United States. I did not have a passport; I had a visa and an I-94 document, which is issued to immigrants who are admitted to the United States. I was at the mercy of that officer that day.


Nearly eight years later, there I was inside the Dublin airport in Ireland, face-to-face with another immigration officer. The difference this time is that I did not have to face questions about why I left my country and if I had ever joined a terrorist group. I was comfortable and held my head high as the officer checked my U.S. passport before stamping permission to enter the country without an interrogation.

That’s why people are risking their lives to come to and live in America. Immigrants are prouder than native-born Americans because our citizenship and a U.S. passport are hard-earned.

Nothing comes easy. I waited for nearly eight years for this moment to arrive. It included six years of living in the U.S. as a permanent resident but unable to vote and passing English and civics tests to prove that I was American enough to earn a passport. Yet I show my pride in America.

I met a few Irish people as I stood in the John F. Kennedy Park in Cobh, which was the last port of call for the Titanic. We started talking about the Titanic movie, then U.S. presidents. Despite the differences we have when we are in the United States, it is important that we learn American history, including our presidents and the global influence we have on other countries.

Every American should be prepared to know the history of the United States before traveling abroad. At least on this trip, I have shown the Irish people I have met that you can be a Black man, an immigrant and a naturalized American who loves his country and knows the history of the United States.

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