I find Amal Najf, a middle-aged woman in a headscarf and long gown, in line at a food pantry at Peace Neighborhood Center. She exchanges friendly greetings with Peace director Bonnie Billups Jr. and tells me, in limited English, that she came here in 1998 to join her husband, who left Iraq after he was injured in the first Persian Gulf War (when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, only to be ejected by a U.S.-led force.). She eventually divorced him, but stayed here with their four children.
She says the move was hardest on her oldest child, who was eight when they moved here. She recalls he "was crying every day, I pick him up. 'Mom, I can't understand.'" Today, she says proudly, he is a graduate of Eastern, has a full-time job in "security," and supports the family.
Zilan Taymour is a Kurd, an ethnic minority persecuted by Hussein. She was just five when he attacked the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, infamously killing civilians with poison gas. Her family fled on foot to Turkey, an exhausting three-week journey that still haunts her.
Now thirty, Taymour greets me in her University Townhouse apartment where she is playing with her three-year-old daughter. Pregnant with her third child, she works full time at the U-M library. She wears no head scarf and has no trace of an accent.