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The New Americans

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Sawsan Mohammed with her youngest son Dastan Abdulla, a senior in high school, at their home just outside of Pittsburgh. Mohammed fled her native Iraq and last fall became a U.S. citizen.



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January 12, 2020

The New Americans

With the help of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial, Postindustrial examines the state of immigration in the region and how some communities benefit from the addition of new arrivals while others are missing out


By Kimberly Palmiero // Photographs by Martha Rial

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People fleeing war and oppression worldwide are playing a major role in improving the fortunes of some Postindustrial cities by moving here to build new lives.

Over the last few months, I spoke with some of these families who endured atrocities few native-born Americans can imagine. Some were driven from their homes, separated from their families, and accustomed to the sounds of war.

They lived, but they were not free. Their stories were both harrowing and heart wrenching.

“I have spent my whole life with wars,” said Sawsan Mohammed, who was 11 when the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980 in her native Iraq. “I left everything—my family, my work, and my country for a better life for my children and for security and safety.”

Sawsan is among the families I talked to who settled in Western Pennsylvania, where they learned to speak English, secured jobs, started businesses, and are sending their children to school.

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More than a century after immigrants boosted the population in American cities during the Second Industrial Revolution, those yearning for a better life are helping to improve some regions in the Rust Belt and Appalachia where people are dying and moving away.

That means some cities that otherwise would have lost people, have gained—leading to an economic and cultural boost.

In the upcoming issue of Postindustrial the magazine, we explore the stories of people who settled in Postindustrial cities from countries where war and poverty plagued them and where they could only dream of buying a home, educating their children, and throwing parties when it pleases them.

It’s a story of what people from Bhutan, Iraq, and other parts of the world bring to communities when they settle there. And it is a story of what they have become and what they hope for still.

Read more about them and what leaders in Postindustrial communities like Pittsburgh and Dayton, Ohio are doing to support refugees and immigrants.

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See the full story in the next issue of Postindustrial magazine by subscribing now.


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Regular Postindustrial readers will recall this story from last June about a conversation with Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who was also chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. It was during that tenure that Wilkerson played a pivotal role – one he now regrets—in marching the United States into war with Iraq.

Wilkerson issued a startling warning about what a potential war with Iran would look like:

“We are talking about (Iranian) people who were bloodied in eight years of brutal war with Iraq … who have now learned a whole hell of a lot more about war by fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq and are probably willing to die to the last Iranian to preserve their country.”

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Jennifer Szweda Jordan
Age: 49

Scott Township

Seton LaSalle Catholic High School, Mt. Lebanon, Pa.
English, Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

Jordan previously worked for The Associated Press, and freelanced for NPR. She also hosted The Allegheny Front, a news program in Western Pennsylvania.

Their work has garnered several awards. “Look Who’s Here!” founding host Erin Gannon won a Golden Quill Award this year for “A Wonderful Life’: Raising a Child With Down Syndrome,” in which she interviewed her parents. The program also won a Quill last year.

Jordan received an Art of Inclusion Award through the PEAL Center this year and an ACHIEVA Yvonne Zanos Excellence in Media Award in 2018.

An offshoot of Unabridged Press, All-Abilities Media, is grant-funded initiative that is a project of Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh. Jordan now has recording space at the Center for Media Innovation on campus.

Find her work on SoundCloud and on YouTube.


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