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Jamal Ali

Interpreter, aircraft engineer, Iraq refugee and 2018-2019 Outstanding Refugee Award recipient

“I am an aircraft engineer and I’m originally from Iraq. Back in 1979, I studied aircraft engineering in Tulsa, Oklahoma, graduated and went back to Iraq to work for Iraqi Airways until 2003. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I worked for UPS as a general manager until my life was threatened. I came to the U.S. with my family, my wife and two children.

“As my family and I were making our way to Minnesota, we would hear stories about how hard refugees had it in the United States. But upon arriving it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I think that’s partially because not only did I graduate from here, but I also was used to traveling a lot because of my job. But for my wife and kids, it was hard. Back in Iraq my wife was a medical doctor. But she could not get her license here because she had graduated over 20 years ago. She started studying to try to get the license only to be told it's a long way, she might not get accepted and she’s going to be wasting her time. For her, that time of our life was very difficult. She persevered and was able to get a job as a professional interpreter at a hospital. Her background as a doctor made her uniquely qualified because she was able to interpret the medical terminology better than any of the other interpreters.

“My daughter had a pretty difficult time as well. People would make little comments here and there, asking her why she wears her hijab, what it means to her. But because of her strong personality and her ability to speak up for herself, she was able to show people just how confident she was in herself. My son went through a similar experience with his accent.

“I am a refugee; I understand challenge and hardship. My advice to people is to learn as you go; be patient, persevere, and connect with community. I think what helped us overcome this very difficult time in our lives was that we weren’t quick to quit. We persevered! We were patient. Soon enough we didn’t feel like outsiders anymore. 

“My wife and I now both work as interpreters in hospitals, clinics, sometimes police stations, schools, law offices and our county office, but most of it is in the medical field. She and I both enjoy this work because not only do we get to meet a lot of people, but we also get to help them. The joy we find in being able to make enough money to pay our bills while also helping people is unmatched; it truly is a blessing from God. I feel honored to help people. I'm proud to be helping people in our community.”

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