Ali Altahafi will spend the summer of 2017 preparing for his freshman year of college at the University of Arkansas. This year will starkly contrast his 2013 summer, when he immigrated to the United States from Iraq.
High school senior Ali currently attends Central High School in Springfield, MO. His high school is right across the street from Drury University, where his sister attends college. He commented,
"My sister found Drury while she was at a college fair, she liked it and where the university is located; Springfield. A relatively small city is what my father wanted, he wanted a city with a small population so we would assimilate with the culture."
A map of Missouri is featured below. The Altahafi's new home of Springfield is in the southwest corner.
Ali's family decided to move to the United States for both their safety and their education. His family is originally from the United Arab Emirates. While Ali's siblings studied at local universities, he and his parents also found solace from military occupation in Iraq. Ali noted that he still has family living in Iraq and said,
"Every day they are living in fear."
Back in November, Ali's family's story was featured on Springfield's local news channel, KY3. While his family's story was intended to raise awareness towards their culture and experiences, the shared interview on social media caused racist backlash from some members of the community. In a county that cast six out of every ten votes for Donald Trump in the past election, hurtful comments found their way under these news stories. Ali advocated that these comments are due to a lack of education about the situation in Iraq.
Recent initiatives from the Trump administration such as the Travel Ban — which Ali called "unjust" — cause families such as his to live in fear. Ali stated that the freedom and opportunities in the United States are unmatched, and that is what he loves most about being here. But if you search his social media, he still strongly advocates for the people in his home country, commenting that he wants to use his American freedom to support fellow Iraqis.
"Iraq is a country full of rich history and vibrant culture, I do not want it to end in rubbles-forgotten," Ali said. "I love my country and what it stands for and I want them [U.S. citizens] to understand that it does not deserve the animosity it lives in. I want them to understand the people who just want to live in their homeland in peace."
Lead Image Credit: Ali Altahafi