Zacharia Muryano

Transcript of Zacharia Muryano
Interviewee: Zacharia Muryano
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Interpreter/Translator: Clare Mukumdente
Place: Pan African Association, 6163 N Broadway, Chicago, IL
Date: February 27, 2015
Transcriber: Dorothy Nygren [Kirundi language not transcribed]
Time: 24:14 minutes

Copyright © 2015 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Today is February 27, 2015 and I’m at the Pan African Association interviewing Zacharia Muryano. Welcome. Hello.

ZM: Welcome. Hello.

DN: Our translator is Clare Mukumdente who will be translating from Kirundi. Can you spell your name…I’d like to start the interview by asking Zacharia what year he was born?

ZM: January 1, 1939.

DN: What country was he born in?

ZM: Burundi.

DN: Can he talk a little bit about his life and why he needed to leave?

ZM: I left Burundi because of the war in 1972 and I went for Rwanda.

DN: When you were in Rwanda, were you staying in a refugee camp?

ZM: When you live in a camp of refugees, they give us an allowance and we make our own house and we were a family.

DN: Who else was with him in his family?

ZM: I left myself. I met my wife in 1972 after the war.

DN: How did he get from his home country to Rwanda?


ZM: We walk. We walk.

DN: How long a walk was it?

ZM: Five days.

DN: Five days. Did he have food with him? Or what did he do for food?

ZM: During the war, you don’t eat. When you flee, you don’t eat. There was no food at that time.

DN: Was it dangerous?

ZM: Yes, it was dangerous.

DN: Could you talk a little bit about that? Did he travel by night or during the day?

ZM: By night. We walked night time.

DN: So he came to Rwanda with his wife and they were living in a little house that he had. What he did for food there?


ZM: They would give us the food. They would bring to him like a summer stuff. Every Friday they would go to get the food, but when they got there, there were families there before they started.

DN: How long was he in Rwanda?

ZM: I left Burundi in 1972 and we left Rwanda in 1994.

DN: In 1994, was that when Zacharia came to the United States?

ZM: From Rwanda we went to somewhere they call Rukore in Tanzania. There was a refugee camp there too.

CM: I think that during the war what happened was that Rwanda had genocide too. So they had to flee to another country, go to Tanzania.

ZM: No. He went to Tanzania.

DN: How did he get there?

ZM: He walked.

DN: For how long?

ZM: Like four days… same time, same time.

DN: So it was like a repetition of the initial situation: dangerous, no food, trying to escape?

ZM: When you flee, you have no food.

DN: Once they got to Tanzania, what then?


ZM: They put them in a camp but it was horrible.

DN: In a camp. How long was he in a camp in Tanzania? Maybe weeks, years? They came to the United States from Tanzania. What year was that?

ZM: 2007

DN: So Zacharia was in a refugee camp in Tanzania from 1994 to 2007? He came as a refugee with his wife in 2007? Is that correct?

ZM: I came with my wife and two kids. From my other kids, they took them back to Burundi. They were five kids. I was able to come with two kids. So the other kids, the three of them, they took them back to the country they had never been before.

CM: They took them back to Burundi when they were born in Rwanda.

DN: How old were these children?

ZM: They were married already.

DN: I understand that already, but how old were the children that were sent back to the country they had never seen? [Misunderstanding on interviewer’s part - Zacharia is apparently referring to his three older children that were married.]

ZM: Twenty three, twenty one and twenty.

DN: But there were two children that came with him [to the United States]? How old were those two children?

ZM: They were young. Fourteen and nine.

DN: I’d like to go back to the children who were sent back to Rwanda. They were born in Rwanda but they grew up without citizenship, without any rights. Then they went to Tanzania with their parents, but then when Zacharia and his wife came to the United States because were accepted as refugees status, they [the two older children] were sent back to Rwanda.


CM: To Burundi. What happened when they do interviews is that when you are eighteen you have your own case. So I don’t know what happened, but he was approved and able to come, but they [the United States] did not approve them [the older children]. That’s how the system works.

DN: His heart must have been broken. Would you tell him I’m so sorry?

ZM: Thank you.

DN: So Zacharia, his wife, and his two younger children under the ages of eighteen were accepted to come to the United States. They came on a plane. What did they bring with them?

CM: They don’t have anything.

ZM: We had nothing really. Just the clothes we are wearing.

DN: When he arrived in the United States, was that Chicago?

ZM: The agency picked them up from the airport. There were two of them. It was the Ethiopian Community [Association].

DN: Japan Community?

CM: Ethiopian Community Association.

DN: How did he come to find himself at Pan African?

ZM: The Ethiopians sent me.

DN: And that was in 2007?

CM: Yes.

DN: The Ethiopian Community Association did not have anyone that spoke his language. So they sent him to Pan African and here’s where he found his home.

CM: Yes.

DN: What did Pan African do to help him attain citizenship?


ZM: Pan African helped me a lot. I came to English class here. Pan African helped me with a lot of stuff. I came here to attend classes. Even I didn’t know anything but I was coming. Now I know how to write my name. It’s not good, but I know how to write my name. They helped me to get citizenship when Ethiopian Community Association couldn’t help me with the citizenship.

CM: Because he failed before. They applied for him, but they didn’t get all the information. So he came here and persisted and applied again.

DN: The Ethiopian Community [Association] helped him apply for citizenship but then the documents were incomplete or not accepted so he came to Pan African for help and through the help that Pan African has given, he’s been able to get his citizenship. What year was that?

CM: The citizenship?

DN: I have it on the papers.

CM: Wednesday.

DN: He’s a new citizen?

CM: Yes.

DN: Congratulations! Congratulations!

ZM: Thank you so much. I’m so happy. Pan African really helped me a lot. I have a joy I can’t explain.

DN: Did Pan African help him get a job? How is he supporting himself after the eight months that he’s supported by the government?

ZM: Pan African has done so much for me I cannot say. I get winter jacket from here. I get the shoes. I get the medicine. They took me to Public Aid to get the food stamps and they cut my…

CM: Before he got citizenship, when he was supposed to get citizenship before, his papers were incomplete. So they cut his benefits from Social Security because he wasn’t a citizen.


DN: Would you say that a little slower, a little louder.

CM: When you come as a refugee, after seven years, if you are not a citizen, they cut your social security money. So they cut it and we took him to public aid and they give him cash before he got his Social Security. That’s why he said, “They took me to Public Aid.” So he was getting cash, like maybe $400.

DN: So he’s never had employment here?

CM: He came when he was over 65.

DN: He came when he was over 65?

CM: Yes.

DN: What about his wife? Does his wife have citizenship too?

ZM: Not yet.

DN: But she’s working on it?

CM: Yes, she’s working on it.

DN: How does he feel living in the United States?


ZM: I’m so happy. I’m so happy. (Raises arm up into the air in celebratory gesture)

DN: When he first came from Tanzania to Chicago, what did he feel like?

ZM: When I came to American I was so happy. When I landed I was so happy to be here.

DN: How does he feel about living in the Edgewater community?

ZM: I’m happy. It’s good.

DN: When you first came to the United States, what were some of the strange things that happened?


ZM: My happiness is being a citizen in this nice country where everybody dreams to be a citizen. That is my happiness. There’s a lot of stuff I saw, I never saw before like a train. I never saw trains before. I have a hard time with the elevator when we go somewhere.

DN: What about things like living in a house or the food?

ZM: I am so happy because the food, I eat anything I want. I have a choice for food. I never had a choice before for food. I live in a house. I have everything I need in the household. It’s a different experience. I’m so happy. The same apartment I came – that’s the same place I still live.

DN: Since 2007?

CM: The same apartment.

DN: So he’s been an Edgewater resident for eight years?

CM: Yes.

DN: What about the food that he eats? I know you can get African food in Edgewater. Does he still enjoy eating African food, or does he eat American food now?


ZM: American food. Chicken. American chicken. He eats African food, but he loves American food too.

DN: Can you think of any other questions that I might ask him Claire?

CM: He used to walk a lot. He never takes a bus or train. How does he feel about it?

ZM: It was my first time on a train in America. It was my first time on the bus. I did not see a bus.

DN: What about his children? Are they living with him now?

CM: Yes. They live together.

DN: Are his children citizens or do they have to apply separately?

ZM: Not yet.

CM: But the one that’s eighteen: we [Pan African] are going to help him to get citizenship maybe next year. The one that’s twenty-one: he’s been coming to class to learn about citizenship. He comes to the class all the time.

DN: So he’ll be applying for citizenship on his own.

CM: Yes.

DN: What is his experience raising children here as compared to the way he was raised?


CM: He’s very good to his children encouraging them to get an education.

ZM: My kids have been going to school. They can go as much as they want to go to school. But in Africa sometime if you don’t have money you don’t go to school.

DN: Do his children give him the respect as a father that he gave his father?

ZM: Yes.

DN: So he’s raised his children with the traditional African values of respecting elders?

ZM: Yes, yes.

DN: Does he feel that there are certain things about his African heritage that he would like to pass onto his children?

ZM: Especially to respect everyone.

DN: Did he grow up when he was in his home country in a village or a city?

ZM: In a village.

DN: In a village. How many people were in his family?

CM: Six, but when I asked, “Where are your siblings?” he said everybody died.

DN: But before when they were young.

ZM: Six of them.

CM: Mama died, Papa died. Everybody died.

DN: Please tell him that I’m sorry for his loss and the bad experiences that he had, but that I’m happy that he’s found a good home here and for his children too.

ZM: Thank you.

DN: Please tell him that I wish him a happy life in the United States and that he can enjoy watching his children grow up here and look forward to many grandchildren.

ZM: Yes.

DN: We appreciate very much his sharing his story with us.

ZM: Thank you and continue in your job. You are doing it well. Pan African is my home now. They have helped me a lot: Patrick, everybody here is helping me.

DN: We’re happy that you found a new family and a good family.

ZM: Thank you. May God continue to bless you.

DN: Thank you for your interview.

Transcriber’s note: Zacharia Muryano was born in 1939. In 1972, when he was 33 years old, he was forced to flee his homeland of Burundi, spending the next 22 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda. His three oldest children were born there. Then in 1994, at the age of 55, he was forced to flee Rwanda for Tanzania where he spent the next 13 years in a refugee camp there. In 2007, at the age of 68 he was accepted as a refugee in the United States. Eight years later, at the age of 76, after spending 43 years of his life in refugee camps, Zacharia became a citizen of the United States.