Off to the Unknown

An Immigration Story
By Yusra Hassan

Sudan was all my parents knew. They grew up and went to school there, and their families lived there. After they got married, they knew they would start a family. Sudan lacked good health care, and education was expensive. Life wasn’t the safest for children. Everyone always said that America was “the land where dreams come true” and “the life like in the movies.” My parents wanted the best for their future children, so they decided to see for themselves what America was all about.
My mom describes leaving Sudan as a “decision based solely on hope.” My parents thought it would be selfish to stay in Sudan just because it benefited them, so they decided to take the chance and head off to the unknown. 


In 2000, my parents and my aunt came to Rochester, Minnesota through a travel visa. They later applied for asylum so they could stay in the United States. My dad chose to come to Rochester because he had an aunt here and didn’t want to be in a new country completely alone. Minnesota is known for its easily accessible health benefits, such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, which my parents knew would help support them and their future children. My mom was pregnant with my older sister, so she was lucky enough to get medical insurance right away. My family knew little about Minnesota and only just enough English to get by, but they decided they had to adapt and get used to this new way of life.  


My parents went to university and got degrees in Sudan, but their degrees didn’t have the same value in America, which meant that my parents didn’t have the same opportunities. It was completely unfair; my parents had taken the same classes and worked just as hard, but America doesn’t always recognize foreign degrees as equal to their worth. My parents had to give up on their dream of getting jobs they studied so hard for in university, just so their children could have better opportunities here. And even once they were here, they needed to wait until their case was approved to be able to apply for authorization to work in America. 

During the five-year period before my parents got their green cards, my dad’s father passed away. Since they didn’t have green cards, if they left the United States, they wouldn’t be allowed to come back. My dad had to apply for travel documents and be approved just to go to his own father’s funeral, and he didn’t even get back to Sudan until six weeks after my grandfather’s death. He missed his father’s funeral, burial and goodbyes just waiting for documents to be able to come back to America. My dad describes this as “a feeling of being trapped in a country that is supposed to be full of opportunity and freedom.” 

The green card process includes seemingly endless paperwork, fingerprinting and interviews, but my parents finally received theirs in 2005 and then became citizens in 2010. The naturalization process is only getting more difficult, and the many immigrants seeking refuge in the “land of the free” are struggling just to be able to live in a safe country. My parents left home at a time when things weren’t the best in Sudan, but for those escaping war or countries they can no longer find shelter in, this process must be a nightmare.  


Not growing up in the country I am from is hard. It’s difficult to learn my native culture and language when we can only visit Sudan once every few years. Being connected to my roots is extremely important to me, and it’s hard not being able to physically be in the place where I’m from. My mom says one of the hardest struggles of moving here is having to teach us the culture and religion. Sudan is a Muslim country where everyone speaks the same language, and our entire culture is there. My mom wants us to know where we are from and to be proud of it, but it is definitely not an easy thing to do. 

It’s hard living in a predominantly white country and attending a predominantly white school. I am technically American—I have an American passport and all the privileges, but deep inside of me, I don’t truly feel American. I feel as though there is a part of me that will never be understood by American people. I feel too American for people in Sudan because I’ve been in America all my life, but too Sudanese for American people because I’m not white and I speak another language and follow different traditions. 

In recent years, Sudan has been going through wars and revolutions, and many people are struggling. Many children in Sudan don’t go to school because it is too expensive. It is my dream to one day be able to give back to the people of Sudan who don’t have the privilege to live in America and receive a better education in a safe environment. I hope the process for immigrants becomes easier and America owns up to its “land of opportunity” and “freedom and justice for all” mottos, especially for those who need it most. One day, I want to repay my parents, who risked it all unselfishly and sacrificed so much so they could provide a better life for my siblings and me.