Name: Ramazani Mwanza
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Topics: Refugee, African, Youth, Education, Community
Quote: “I am from the Republic of Congo. I have been in New Mexico now for 2 years. When I arrived to the U.S. for the first time I was happy! My dream had come true!”
Leaving One’s Homeland
My name is Ramazani Mwanza and I am from the Republic of Congo. I have been in New Mexico now for 2 years. We were refugees and we had been in Burundi for 8 years. We are proud that we got a chance to come here.
We traveled to other countries like Tanzania, Burundi, and it was very different to the U.S. Congo is also very different. The culture is very different. We went to immigration services and they told us we had a chance to go to the United States. It’s hard to get that approved because hardly any Africans get to come to the U.S.
Back home there was people killing each other. That’s why we came here. There were countries & cultures who didn’t like each other. People would kill each other for nothing.
Not my whole family came to the U.S. I still have my brother who now lives in Burundi. I live with my mom and I have 3 sisters with me here.
Immigration services are the ones who assign us this state. They told us we would go to New Mexico. They took us to our house and we went to get our social security’s and they assigned me school at Highland High School. It was Ms. Melanie who took me to Highland. At first it was difficult, because I did not know any English. Ms. White told me that I would need to study very hard, to keep talking to others, and make sure to be free.
When I arrived to the U.S. for the first time I was happy! My dream had come true! All of my life I thought I would live in Africa forever. But we got a chance to come here, so I was so happy during our first time here.
It was very different than Africa. In Africa you are not going to get food or get other things you get here. So I was happy to go to school but it was also scary because I didn’t know any English. Ms. White kept telling me to keep working and keep studying. She recommended me to read book and watch cartoons. After one year here, I was taking summer school. I am happy now because I have friends that I can hang out with and play soccer.
I speak Kirundi, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and I speak a little bit of French. And now most of my French is gone. And a few more African languages. Right now a little Spanish, like, “Hola, como estas?” I have a lot of friends who tell me don’t be scared just talk.
My coach from Highland High School tells me, “Don’t worry just to come to practice.” My freshman year I was already in varsity and it was all because I was working hard. I keep playing soccer because it’s my whole life!
I arrived in 2015 to the U.S. It took a while for us to get processed with social security and other things, so when I finally started school there was only 2 weeks left of the school year. It was difficult because all my grades that semester were F’s. It took me so long to play soccer. I went to talk to the principal and Ms. White helped me and I also brought my mom to school. And finally I was allowed to play and it was very happy to be able to play because that was my first time playing in a team. I got a chance, and I didn’t want to lose that chance. And I wanted to show everyone who I am.
A Worldly Hub at Highland High
Highland is a very good school. If you have someone who speaks the same language, they can show you where the classes are at and things like that. My friends who spoke the language would show me around where my classes were at. My friends would also invite me to play soccer. That’s how I met the coach. He saw me play and he said I was good, that they needed me, but the biggest problems at first was fixing my grades. And it took me a while because I had to talk to the principal.
At first it was difficult to communicate with my teammates in the field. Most of the teammates speak Swahili or Spanish.
I always go to class and do what my teachers tell me. I don’t want to fail any class. I want to pass every class.
I’m not just going to hang out with my African friends, I want to hang out with everybody. I want to be nice to everybody. I want to respect everybody. All students know that I talk to everybody. If you are from Mexico or Cuba or any country, I am going to say hi. I just keep communicating with everybody and making friends.
We first lived in Western Skies. We moved from there because it was too much money to pay the rent. My mom found this apartment where we currently live because it was better for us.
Everyday I wake up at 5:00am. I catch a bus at 5:35am and I get to Highland at 7:00am. It’s a little hard because I need to take 2 buses. #5 and #145 bus. But it’s still worth it to go to Highland.
El Dorado and Del Norte would be the local schools to where I live. I just wanted to stay in Highland. I just like everything at Highland! It’s my favorite school! I am happy to take 2 buses [laughter]! My Mom told me that school is my future, so that’s why I wake up early everyday. A lot of people ask me why I don’t go to El Dorado or Del Norte if they are closer to me and have school buses, but I tell them no because I have all my friends and soccer here at Highland.
Challenges & Visions
My mom works in a hotel and my two sisters are also working in a hotel. They like it. They work hard to pay the rent.
My future goal is to be a doctor. I want to try to play soccer in college. I want to be a doctor so bad. I am going to try so hard to make my dreams come true.
I would tell refugee populations, “Welcome! Feel at home!” When I got here, all my friends helped me and so I am going to help them if they come. I will welcome them to Highland High School and if they need me to show them their classes for them to just come talk to me. They know that I speak Swahili and I am so happy because they come to ask me. And I make them feel like at home.
School in Burundi is different than here. Some students here, they don’t listen to the teacher. But in Africa all students listen to the teacher! You don’t do anything stupid in front of a teacher. If they kick you out, you are done, you don’t get to go to school anymore. You will just go find a job and go work. It’s not like here where you take a break and you get a lunch. In Africa there is no lunch! You can’t talk in class or use a phone.
At the beginning, when I was in class, teachers would tell students to put their phone away and students would say “No!” And I was like, “What?! You say no?! You are not scared?!” They would say, “No!” I was like, “Wow!” That was new for me! In Africa if you do something wrong they punish you. We don’t do stupid things in school, we are scared to do so. They would punish you by hitting you in your hand. Or they would punch you anywhere. That’s why we’re scared.
If the teacher gives you homework, you don’t take a break or anything, you just do it. If you don’t do something, you know they are going to punish you. If you don’t do your homework they are going to call your mom. It’s different in Africa. There is many students per one chair. It’s not like here where you are going to sit by yourself.
I am Muslim. In Africa all my family is Muslim. We go pray in the mosque. We are sometimes scared because people here say that all Muslims are terrorists. We are scared, but we just keep going to pray everyday. I would tell those people that it’s not true that all Muslims are terrorists. All weekend we go read the Qur’an. All weekend on Saturdays and Sundays from 7am to 10am we go to the mosque.
Safe Heaven in Education
The first time I ever presented anything was in New Mexico History. Oh my God! I was so scared! That was my first time presenting in front of people. And all the people were looking. If you don’t know English it is so hard. Ms. White has helped me in being comfortable. She is my favorite teacher, because everything I need help in, I just go to Ms. White and she help me with everything.
We presented to the Board of Education one day. We read something Swahili and then we would translate it for people in English. My friends were scared because they are all from Africa. I told them not to be scared and just to read. After we read in Swahili, Ms. White would ask the audience if they understood what we said, and they said, “No.” And so we would translate for them in English. And it was good because all the people said, “Good job!”
Ms. White: We had the students present to the Board of Education. We would show the board a documentary from BBC in Swahili and then we would have the students ask in Swahili to interpret what they saw. And nobody of course could answer. So we put them in the shoes of the students.
I want to tell people that if you go to a different country, that things will not be the same as it was in their country. It’s going to be different. I would tell people to just go to class, to do things they give you, to ask for help if you need it. Respect your teachers. You need to graduate to go to college to make your dreams come true. Listen to your mom and family. Choose good friends, not bad friends. That’s what my mom told me.
Photo Credits: Bobby Gutierrez