Ifrah Mansour- Multimedia artist, educator and Somali Refugee

My name is Ifrah Mansour and I was born in Saudi Arabia. My family had just moved back to Somalia when the civil war broke out in 1991. Our world was flipped upside down.
My family and I experienced civil wars, droughts, famine and refugee camp before I was the age of ten. No one should face what refugees experience. My family and I were lucky enough to come to America and get a second chance at life. I am also lucky enough to have found my calling in life. 

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While I was finishing college and preparing to be a school teacher for the rest of life. I randomly got a job at a theatre and saw black actors on stage, breathing life to stories. Something woke within me and I never got off stage ever since. Now, I am a multimedia performance artist. I blend poetry, puppetry and video to make refugee stories come alive. I use my life experience as an inspiration, to retell my story. My proudest work is  “How to have fun in a civil war” an autobiographical multimedia piece, examining Somalia's civil war through the eyes of a seven-year-old refugee girl. Layering poetry, puppetry, video, and interviews I confront violent history with humor, offering all Minnesotans a chance to reach across differences for hope and healing.

The most memorable impression of the US is our first neighborhood we lived in Dallas, Taxes. Imagine coming from all black, all-Muslim Somali-speaking world to being dropped in the middle of Taxes. We didn’t see a single brown person in our first month of America. We felt so isolated and need it a community. Finally, we saw a black guy. My family of eight members all ran to him, excited to see someone that looked like us. We asked “Where are the black people?, no luck. We later learned that three other Somali families lived in Seattle, Washington. My family and I took the Greyhound, accidentally in barking on our first American road trip across the states to find our community.

When you come to America, you feel so behind and you’re made to feel everything you know is of no use. It’s okay to voice your need and seek support. Find yourself a community. Where I work, I’d hear a new refugee who’d been having a hard time finding resources. They find what they need within months of notifying the community. Affluent older Somali Americans have built such an infrastructure to help new refugee Americans. One of our students right now was having trouble finding a job, so I snapped all my friends. Two of my friends responded – job recruitment through Snapchat. This is the beautify of our community.  We’re here to uplift one another. And this circle of generosity continues for the next new refugee. When everything you ever loved; your home, your country and sometimes your family member has been taken. You understand deeply how precious life is and when you don't take life for granted. We've been given a second life to live. Design your life how you want to live. and live your best life. You choose it for yourself. I chose a non-traditional career path. I taught English to East African Elders because I love being around elders who can teach me about my culture. 

Being refugee comes with having to carry so much pain. The pain of losing your livelihood and sometimes your loved ones. The pain of having to leave the only world you knew and to start all over somewhere else. There is also the constant battle of dealing with the stereotype and the stigma of media in America. A refugee is some of the most resilient, hard-working, and strong people I have been blessed to know. Remember, civil wars, displacement, Famine, droughts or refugee camps couldn’t get us down, nothing else will! So recognize the strength it takes to be you, and use to lift yourself up and others who need it.  What awakens all of your senses? You need to find your passion and your passion can serve a greater purpose that uplifts our humanity. For me, it is the arts and storytelling. I know, in media, our stories are not told in the ways we live them. Our stories have been stripped of their strength, complexity and sheer magic. We're constantly fed demoralizing images of ourselves. We need powerful, complex and beautiful images of ourselves. My art has allowed me to fully claim my story, our refugee story. Art has led me to Self-love, a revolutionary act at requires a lot of self-learning and self-history. I specially create art for children, because I want the next Somali generation to have access to their history in the most authentic, beautiful and wholesome way. My hope is that regardless of race, religion, and circumstance that we learn to see all humans as individuals who should have equal rights to find a safe home and the pursuit of happiness. Ain’t that what we all want?

Felicia Philibert