Ten years after coming to the U.S. as a refugee, Som Nath Subedi not only has become self-reliant but become a citizen who gives back to his community.
As I approach my 10th anniversary in this country amid a historic global refugee crisis, Muslim ban, and the ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protection Status (TPS), I have mixed feelings about how to celebrate. I am proud to continue the American legacy, but so many hopeful new Americans like me are barred by the Trump administration’s policies and hateful executive orders.
A year back, the electricity went off in my house. I became frustrated, not knowing why this had happened. Later, I reflected on how I lived completely without electricity in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal for almost two decades. I still remember my mom cooking on a triangle mud oven, one food item at a time, in a thatched, leaky-roofed bamboo walled hut.
When I first arrived here after vigorous vetting overseas, I didn’t speak English or have computer skills. I didn’t have enough warm clothes, so I wore donations from established Portlanders, including a pair of pink gloves (back home, no one thought of pink as a feminine color). Culture shock is real. Back then I was overwhelmed by all the beautiful cars on the highways, people eating out in restaurants, and the employees coming to and from work in the tall buildings downtown. Now, I am one of those settled Americans.
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Despite the myth that refugees have everything handed to them, I have worked hard for my success. I have proven wrong all those who doubted me as a refugee.
Within three years of my arrival, I made a down payment on a house, borrowing money from family members. I had to work six jobs to pay back their money, but it was worth it to take another step toward self-sufficiency. I learned what a credit score was and deliberately made purchases on my card to build a good one. I have been an American citizen since 2013 and, on Dec. 7 of this year, I paid off my mortgage.
Back in the refugee camp, there was nothing I could do to improve my circumstances. Here, I have no choice but to be self-sufficient and a contributing member of the community.
Soon after arriving, I also started community organizing, because the needs of the Bhutanese community were so great. In 2013, I was able to bring the Bhutanese community in Portland together to elect their leaders in a democratic process, a first for the community. This model is applicable for any refugee or immigrant group experiencing a lingering sense of mistrust, civil war or ethnic conflict from back home.
Eventually, I moved into multicultural and multiethnic organizing, and have advocated for refugees and immigrants all the way to the White House. One of my proudest moments was meeting with several senators in Washington, D.C., and then flying with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and taking selfies together on the plane in the middle of the sky. I am proud to be living in a state where senators welcome refugees, and in a state and city that declare themselves a “sanctuary.”
I am grateful to America for welcoming and giving me a chance. In gratitude, I have spent the past 10 years working tirelessly to elevate myself and give support to others so that they can keep the American dream alive.
I had only $10 and a plastic bag upon my arrival in this country, and I was able to work my way up past self-sufficiency to being able to give back to the community. Dreamers are starting out with much more than that. We as a country already have invested a lot in them. If I can bridge the gap from being a stranger to being a proud American within 10 years, Dreamers who grew up here can do it even faster! Give Dreamers, refugees and other immigrants a chance, so they, too, can make contributions and give back to the community.