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Becoming American

Henderson is far from Fadumo Farah Abdi's birthplace in Mogadishu, Somalia. But Henderson is now her home.

The fifth grader's young life has been filled with conflict and challenge, separation and sadness. When Fadumo and her older cousin, Nura, lost their parents in the Somali Civil War, their aunt, “Big Fadumo” Kalif, took them in.

The three fled Somalia to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and, with assistance from a refugee agency, eventually flew to Bowling Green for permanent relocation in 2010. Big Fadumo’s former job at a Tyson chicken-processing plant brought them to Henderson, where they live with an uncle.

Most of Fadumo’s classes at Bend Gate Elementary School are geared towards native speakers of English, but she receives individualized English Language Learning instruction four times a week.

Immigrant children often learn English quicker than their elders. Fadumo helps her aunt learn English, and she and her cousin often act as cultural and linguistic translators. Their second-floor apartment in a complex remains a cultural island of Somali language, religion and food — a haven from their otherwise American daily lives.

While a Muslim hijab covers Fadumo’s hair for most of the day, she wears a shirt screen printed with Mario video game characters. She chose her new sneakers more for their light-up soles than their fit. Karen Beasley, Fadumo’s teacher, said she has fallen in love with Fadumo's “quirky, funky personality.”

When Fadumo brought home a letter from school asking for a copy of her birth certificate, she worried about receiving a class demerit if she couldn't produce one. She doesn't know her real birthday, but records at the immigrant services agency estimate it as Jan. 1, 2001.

Somali communities in large U.S. cities have support structures that help their members assimilate. While Henderson's schools and immigrant agency have done much to help Fadumo and her family, they must make much of this American journey on their own.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi waits to exit the bus in the morning at Bend Gate Elementary School.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi helps her aunt/guardian "Big Fadumo" Kalif read a childrens book in their Saddlebrook Drive apartment.

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Fadumo Abdi tries on sneakers in Kmart. The following day she complained that her feet hurt.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi reads the book "Sounder" during class at Bend Gate Elementary School. The temporary henna tattoos on her hands are remanents from her aunt's recent wedding.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi calls her friend Emily after praying in her Saddlebrook Drive apartment.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi reacts after bringing home a letter from school asking for a copy of her birth certificate. Fadumo's real birthday isn't known.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi listens during Karen Beasley's fifth grade class at Bend Gate Elementary School in Henderson.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi, right, and her friend Emily Hope, share a laugh during lunchtime at Bend Gate Elementary School.

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Fadumo Farah Abdi prays after school in her Saddlebrook Drive apartment.

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After school, Fadumo Farah Abdi runs from the bus stop to her apartment. While Fadumo's house is just over the boundary in a different school district, teachers and administrators kept her at Henderson's Bend Gate Elementary, the same school her older cousin attended.