June 20th marks both my birthday and World Refugee Day. I intentionally chose the date of my birthday to avoid being swept into the United Nations’ automatic birthday assignment of Jan. 1 for all refugees. Even after an extensive asylum interview and my specific birthdate request in 2011, however, my refugee papers and the so-called Alien Card bestowed upon me by the Kenyan government officially said that I was born Jan. 1. That date stood for five years, but now my U.S. passport and driver’s license proclaim June 20 as my true day of birth.

Having two birthdays might seem unusual, but it’s a meaningful part of my life story.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth and can be contacted at noriftin@gmail.com.

My mother remembers the weather on the day of my birth, the people present and the sound of my newborn cries, but she does not know the date. It wasn’t until I embarked on my journey, leaving Somalia in 2011 and entering the world of documents, that I realized this piece of missing information was crucial. In my Somali community, birthdays were not a cause for celebration; families didn’t even exchange messages filled with “Happy Birthday” wishes. I found in the United States that birthdays were of great significance.

As June 20 drew near this year, messages from my former college mates poured in, inquiring about my birthday plans. My Maine family and friends wanted to know if I had a plan, asking, “What are you doing for your birthday this year?”  Meanwhile, my brother writes to me,  “Are they bothering you with the birthday thing again?” I feel like I’m living in two worlds.

Last year, my friends took it upon themselves to throw a small party with a delightful dinner, complete with cake and candles. The joy I felt from knowing that there were people who cared and celebrated my birth was truly heartwarming. This year, thanks to my girlfriend’s persuasive powers, my birthday will be celebrated on the shores of Scotland. As I write this column in a cabin on the Isle of Mull, gazing out at scenery and listening to bird calls that both bear a striking resemblance to those in Maine, I ponder the significance of birthdays to me.

I will appreciate any festivities and joyfulness that may come my way, but deep within my heart, I believe that neither June 20 nor Jan. 1 truly mark the day of my birth. As I turn 38 on, according to my U.S. documents, June 20, I carry with me the wisdom shared by my mother during a conversation about birthdays: “As long as you witness the radiant sunrise and the tranquil sunset each day, you are blessed and should celebrate the gift of life.”

And so, on this occasion, I find solace in the simple yet profound notion that every day holds the potential for celebration. Whether it be Jan. 1 or June 20 or any other day of the year, I embrace the opportunity to cherish life’s beauty, and the love and connections that transcend borders and birthdays.

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