When the “land of the free” doesn’t feel like it

By Yusra Hassan

The Dream

The dream of any immigrant fleeing his or her country is to find a new home that is safe and peaceful. My parents made the ultimate sacrifice to leave Sudan (their birthland), with the hope of raising my siblings and me in America so that we could follow our dreams, attend the best schools and colleges and be happy. In 2000, my parents risked leaving it all for my safety, but there was so much they didn’t know.

Being 17

I am a seventeen-year-old teenage girl living in Rochester, Minnesota. Like many teenagers, I spend a lot of my time going out with my friends, getting coffee from Moka, shopping or going out to brunch. Before leaving my house I always let my parents know what time I’ll be home and who I’ll be with, but there are things that I’m slowly starting to realize about how my life is different from other teenagers.


America is supposed to be the land of the free. America is supposed to give opportunities to those that need it most. America is supposed to be the country that allows liberty and justice for all. With the recent killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as well as all the innocent black lives being taken so often, I don’t see any of America’s standards holding true. This isn’t what my parents risked all they had ever known for. America has been divided by racism since the start, and things only seem to be getting worse, to the point that it has hit here in Minnesota. All that is going on is giving me flashbacks of the events that took place during the Sudanese Revolution. People being tear gassed, rubber bullets being shot and innocent people being arrested is exactly what happened in Sudan. The only difference is that America is supposed to be “the land of the free,” but it seems like people of color and of different religions don’t get to experience that freedom.

3 in 1

I am only 17 years old but there are a few things that living in America has proven to me: there are three main reasons that people will not like me or will fear me. I am a woman – some men will look at me and think of me as worth less than any man. I am black – some white people will see me as a threat. I am Muslim – some people will look at me and only see the violence imposed by extremist groups that claim to follow Islam. But I am me. I am a woman who is powerful, kind, and loving. I am a daughter, a niece, a cousin, and I will one day grow older to become a mother and a wife. I am not a threat; I am caring and kind-hearted and would never threaten anyone. I am a Muslim who follows the religion for its foundations of being compassionate, peaceful and kind. I fit into the three groups that are the most oppressed in America and that terrifies me every time I leave my house.

The Risk Takers

My dad is the most hardworking and devoted man I have ever met, and the idea of someone viewing him as a threat because of the color of his skin terrifies me. My mom is the most charismatic woman to walk this Earth and the idea that someone would think she is violent or a threat because of the color of her skin or the hijab on her head is a nightmare. It now makes sense to me that she would send all the “When will you be home?” texts. She sends them so that she knows I am safe. I understand now that the “Where are you going?” and “Who will you be with?” questions from my dad before I go out are so that he knows I won’t be in dangerous places with people that could harm me. I now know why my parents sometimes hesitate to allow me to go places; they’d prefer me to be at home where they can protect me rather than let me go out where a heartless police officer could decide that I am a threat because of the color of my skin. 


My parents risked it all to come to America to be safe. It is tragic the way that a simple thing such as the color of someone’s skin or the religion they choose to follow can cause someone to lose their life. It hurts my heart that my parents now question if coming to America was the right option for their children and themselves. America has truly let my family, as well as all immigrants and people of color, down. America was built on the backs of black people brick by brick but now takes those same bricks and smashes them in our faces. It hurts to see black people all over America risking their lives through this pandemic and the endless police brutality to simply gain the rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to us. 


All in all, America was built on the foundation of liberty and justice for ALL, not just for white people. America is meant to be the land that gives opportunity to all that wish to seek it, regardless of religion, race or gender. Lawmakers, police officers and politicians need to stop silencing those that need to be heard the most. Black lives are important and the continuous killing of innocent black people must stop. Enough is enough and the damage has gone too far. Until justice is given to all those that have been stripped of their rights, America will continue to be a failure to its true fundamental principles and to all people of color. I plan on one day following my dreams and getting a degree in law so I can fight for the human rights that aren’t given to those that need it most. #BlackLivesMatter 


Yusra Hassan is finishing up her junior year at Century High School. She often writes about the obstacles of being foreign in American from a teen perspective.