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May 31, 2023

How one former refugee uses her poetry to examine ideas of identity and belonging

Dahabo Kerow’s poem, “Where Are You From?” is a featured selection from USA for UNHCR's annual Refugee Storyteller Celebration, an opportunity for former refugees under the age of 30 who are now living in the United States to share their courageous journeys, passions and inspirations.

Dahabo Kerow was born a refugee and lived for seven years in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. She recalls the strength of her mother and how she helped build a life in the camp where as a child, Dahabo did not feel displaced. It was after being resettled to the United States that Dahabo was confronted with the idea that she was a refugee.

Poetry became an outlet for Dahabo to explore her identity and what it means to her to be a refugee. Dahabo’s poem, Where Are You From?, is the answer to a question posed to her that according to her, “had me frozen in place.”

“If I answer [the question] one way my family feels betrayed, if I answer another I simply know that it is a lie,” Dahabo shares.

“Embedded in this poem is the quarrel that I’ve yearned to settle since I’ve come into this world.”

Dahabo's Illustration

Where Are You From?
By Dahabo Kerow

I… I am from an unseen homeland, buried in the minds of those who fled.

I am from a place that was home to many. A place openly known as Kakuma but
privately, within my mind, called a heaven on Earth. The place where I encountered the
World.

Essentially, I am from two torn away motherlands. A product of social violence,
powerful femininity, and a divisive community.

I am from a place of confusing narratives, unwarranted resentment, and brutal violence.
Sometimes I myself am confused of where I am from.

What does belonging mean to a heart that has given its loyalty to a country that
sheltered it but lacks maternal relations?

What is belonging to a mind that has given up the only form of connection it had to this
adopted motherland (Kenya) in exchange for a new identity: an American identity?

How do I answer this question that essentially questions where my loyalty lies?

To the land that preserves my people’s history? To the land where I first encountered
the world? Or to the land that united my family and protected my people, but also
warranted their alienation and vilification?

Confronted by the voices of these allegiances, I am forced to constantly encounter and
escape the question of “where are you from?” Burden by its heaviness and accusatory
notion of expected gratification.

How you can help…

Want to help more refugees like Dahabo find safety and a chance to rebuild? USA for UNHCR supports the full journey of refugees. Our donors help refugees in their greatest time of need and support resettled refugees living in the U.S. With your help, more refugees will have the opportunity to build a peaceful life and have a chance for a brighter future. 

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