America(n)/ The Geography of Belonging “In Somalia the girls get married very young and cannot go to school. My mom was 13 when she wasmarried. Now she has me and 12 kids. We ran to Ethiopia and after many years we came to the United States. I go to school and can get married when I am maybe 20 or 30. But I do not have to marry. I feel like I can do everything.” Utica, often referrd to as “the city that loves refugees”, has a population that is one quarter refugees. Utica welcomed the first group of about 60 Somali Bantus in 2003; since then their community has grown to over 2,000. In April 2019, National Geographic partnered with the Mohawk Valley Resource Center to teach refugee youth photography and visual storytelling, emphasizing the importance of their own unique and valuable perspective. During the workshop, Imran, a Somali young woman who came to Utica in 2015, was among some forty students who spent a week learning from National Geographic photographers, who then guided them as each took their new skills into the community to document their lives in Utica. Nya is the youngest of six children in her family. She, her five siblings and parents were resettled to Syracuse in 2017. When asked her favorite part about living in Syracuse she said, "I like going to school. In the camp in Kenya I was not able to go to school. Here I can learn things and make new friends." Rick, a transient from Buffalo, stayed with Jouliana, a South Sudanese refugee for a period of 6 months spanning late 2018 through 2019. The relationship was more of convenience than romance; Rick provided Jouliana with alcohol and Jouliana gave him a place to stay. The two spent their time together drinking one dollar cans of beer from the local Rite Aid drugstore and discussing how they were going to improve their current situation. Once an excellent student Jouliana began to experiment with drugs and alcohol, both of which exacerbated existing mental health issues. She left her parents home in 2018 and has been on her own for the last 18 months. "We don't deal with taboo. And all of the logical stuff is considered taboo. We don't talk about addiction. We don't talk about birth control. We don't talk about mental health." Jouliana came to Syracuse with her family in 2005. Born in South Sudan, she has little recollection of life in Africa and had just dropped out of Syracuse University when I met her in September 2018. Once an excellent student Jouliana began to experiment with drugs and alcohol, both of which exacerbated existing mental health issues. Tumaini and her children are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo but spent ten years living in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Syracuse in 2014. Tumaini adopted the name “Marierose” after being relocated to the United States with her husband and five children. For Marierose the living area is a shared space, somewhere for her children to play and for her to invite friends to visit and share a cup of tea. Natasha, age 8, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo but came to Syracuse in 2014 after fleeing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her mother, Diba, is grateful Natasha will have a better education than she and describes her as a happy, sensitive child who loves gymnastics, dancing, singing and playing with friends. “We left Somalia because there was a lot of killing and a lot of disease. In Africa they did not allow girls to have power, only the men. They didn’t let me go to school. Only the boys could study. My mom was thirteen when she was married. She has fourteen children. Here you don’t have to get married if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to have children.” Faye, fourteen, is one of four sisters in her family and part of a growing Somali community in Utica. The city welcomed their first group of about sixty Somalis in 2003; today the community has grown to more than 2,000. "We didn’t have enough water to live. People died because the water was dirty. From the sicknesses. If there is no good water and there is no food and no safety we cannot live.” Hawa, 27, is from Somali and was initially resettled to Erie, Pennsylvania, but after three months she and her family stopped receiving government assistance to learn English and find employment. Her husband decided to move their family of seven to Utica, where he heard from Somali friends that rent was more affordable and that better paying manufacturing jobs were available. Says Hawa,“I want to learn better English and the Center for Refugees here offers us free English lessons." Chandra, 27, is a mother of two and left Nepal in 2014, "I wanted a better life for my children.” When asked if she was happy in Syracuse Chandra smiled and looked around her modest home, “My children are getting a good education and this space is my palace—we never had electricity or running water before coming to America." Though she studied at university in Nepal Chandra has struggled to find well-paying work; she currently works 7 days a week at Popeye’s chicken and her husband works the night shift at a Syracuse packing facility. A group of Muslim young women gossip as they wait for the last of the day's light to disappear. Once a Catholic Church, the Masjid Mosque on the Northside of Syracuse was converted to a mosque in 2015 and now serves a growing Muslim population. During the month of Ramadan over 100 people gather each evening to share Iftar, a community meal taken after sunset to break the daylong fast.