‘Cleveland that I love’

With the month of June being celebrated nationally as Immigrant Heritage Month, it’s a good time to recognize the unique and exceptional stories that immigrants and international newcomers carry with them. Thousands of immigrants and refugees have relocated to Northeast Ohio in recent years. The journeys of each of these individuals are distinct and exceptional in their own ways.

For many, this story of traveling to the United States begins with the promise of greater opportunity and a better life.

“I came to New York City with my parents and two older brothers when I was 12 years old,” said Akram Boutros, MD, who is originally from Cairo, Egypt, and currently serves as President and CEO of The MetroHealth System. “They saw America as a land of opportunity because it presented life options we may not have had in Egypt. Employment that could lead to economic stability was a big draw, and the ability to pursue your own course of happiness was another.”

For others, the promise of a better life takes on a different meaning.

“As refugees, we don’t get to choose where we go. We just stay in camps and, for the ones accepting to work harder, stay in cities,” said Makorobondo Salukombo. He came to the United States as a refugee after living in the Democratic Republic of Congo for 12 years and travelling to Uganda for another three years. “We just pray and hope that a program abroad will choose your family to leave the refugee life,”

Inspired by Immigrant Heritage Month in 2016, Global Cleveland declared the past year Immigrant Heritage Year for Northeast Ohio. We reached out to our new neighbors and asked them to share their immigration stories. Most every day throughout the year, we spotlighted a different member of our international community. You’ll find the complete selection of IHY stories on our website, at https://globalcleveland.org/immigrant-heritage-year

So what did we learn from the new Clevelanders? What did we learn by talking with people who came here from around the world? We learned that they appreciate a welcome, and they appreciate some help getting started. That means lot.

“I was very surprised because, coming to the USA, I didn’t know anyone and didn’t expect anything from anyone,” Salukombo told us. “But after we came, we were connected to other refugees who spoke the same language. We were introduced to ESL classes to get help with our English. We went to events where we met different people and made long lasting friends.”

By providing this early assistance and support, organizations and businesses in the region not only help build a stronger work force, but also benefit the region’s economy.

“The sooner and better the newcomers adapt and integrate into the new life, the quicker they’ll be able to fully contribute to the new society,” said Dr. Nada Martinovic. She immigrated to America from Serbia and settled in Cleveland after having lived in Minnesota and New York. “Instead of wasting their talents and capabilities due to misinformation or bias, we should find a way to harvest their potentials.”

Yulu Li, who first moved to Cleveland from China as a graduate student in 2012, also experienced an amiable welcome upon her arrival.

“Before I moved to Cleveland, I knew very little about this city,” she told us. “After four years of living here, I am impressed by the warm and friendly Clevelanders, as well as great cultural and natural assets that the city provides, such as Play House Square and the great Lake Erie. Cleveland has become my second home.”

With the combination of a welcoming culture and a past in which the immigrant’s story is deeply embedded in the region’s history, it comes as no surprise that Cleveland and Northeast Ohio have become a rewarding destination for immigrants and international newcomers.

“I choose to stay here because I love the people and the culture,” said Li, who works as a Senior Account Analyst at Hanna Commercial Real Estate. “I hope more international students can have this luck, to get a chance to learn, love and grow with Cleveland, just like me.”