Out of tragedy and struggles, Sudanese woman earns right to voteWORTHINGTON — When Abang Agwa received her visa to come to the United States, she was grateful to leave the terror-filled Sudan behind. She had great dreams of living in a country built on freedoms that would cloak her in a feeling of safety.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — When Abang Agwa received her visa to come to the United States, she was grateful to leave the terror-filled Sudan behind. She had great dreams of living in a country built on freedoms that would cloak her in a feeling of safety.
Her arrival in Worthington on May 3, 1995, was mixed, however, with both excitement and trepidation. She was glad to have left the fighting behind, yet uncertain about being surrounded by new faces, a new language and a new culture.
She reunited with her husband, who was already living in Worthington, and they began to make a life together in Minnesota.
Agwa considered the United States as a safe harbor, a place where there was no fighting, where her children would be safe and where they could get a good education. She never imagined she’d need to protect them from their own father.
On Aug. 20, 1999, while living in Duluth, Agwa was sent outdoors on an errand for her husband, and when she returned home, she faced what no mother should ever have to endure. Her husband had stabbed their three-year-old daughter to death and killed their nine-month-old son. He’s now in prison, serving sentences for their murder, and Agwa has divorced him and tried to move on with her life.
Part of moving on meant looking out for herself — undoubtedly a struggle because she had trouble speaking the language, let alone reading it. She’d move from job to job, spending time in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Sioux Falls, S.D., and Storm Lake, Iowa, coming back to Worthington for periods of time in between.
Agwa ended up here again in 2010, seeking refuge after learning her Green Card had expired. Without a valid card, she couldn’t find a job. A visit to the welfare office led her to the doors of the West Learning Center, where she enrolled in classes two days a week, for several hours a day.
Becoming a naturalized citizen was her top priority, so in addition to enrolling in the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, she vowed to attend citizenship classes as well. The classes are offered every Tuesday and Thursday at the West Learning Center.
“I came for learning,” Agwa said earlier this week from a classroom there.
Attending classes twice a week, for several hours at a time, has led to some success for Agwa. In September, after passing the U.S. citizenship test, she completed the required interview — the final step in the process of becoming an American citizen.
A month later, in an Oct. 17 ceremony in Minneapolis, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States; and on Tuesday, she plans to exercise her right to vote in her first U.S. election.
“Now I am a citizen, I would like to vote,” Agwa said with a grin. “If you’re a citizen, it’s your right to vote. You are free.”
Agwa said she’s “very, very happy,” to have earned her citizenship and to continue to improve her English speaking skills. She even has a little help from her 5-year-old son, Omri, who helps her with her English by saying, “Not like that, talk like this,” she said with a laugh.
Omri doesn’t understand how difficult it has been for his mom to learn a new language. Agwa said he often asks her to read him a book, but she tells him she can’t.
“Why you can’t read, you big?” Omri asks her.
“I’m big but I don’t know,” she replies.
Omri is a kindergartener at Prairie Elementary in Worthington and, as a single mother, Agwa hopes that he has all of the advantages of growing up in the United States —including a good education.
“I hope he learns better than me,” she said. “I need to know that my son will grow up and complete high school.
“I tell him he has to learn and finish high school and then go to college, too,” she added.
As for Agwa, she wants to keep learning as well.
“My plan now is to learn more English, more reading and writing,” Agwa said.
Though she has one brother living in Stillwater, and several cousins in Minneapolis, much of Agwa’s family remains in Africa. She has a brother and an uncle in Sudan, while her mom, a sister and nieces and nephews are in a refugee camp near Nairobi, Kenya.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.