Why do so many of our students have January 1st birthdays?
As we know, January 1st marks the beginning of a new calendar year.
For many of our students, however, this day has another significance. Along with thousands of other refugees living in the United States, it’s also known as their birthday!
In the case of Somalia, most people never celebrated birthdays. Rather than a month and day, they are more likely to associate their birth with a rainy season or period of drought or famine. Many can only guess at the year.
For those who do know their actual birthday, if they fled without documentation (which they may not have had in the first place), they have no proof to present to US immigration. The State Department and United Nations began assigning January 1st birthdays when large numbers of refugees were resettled after the Vietnam War.
Today, in addition to Somalia, many refugees from Ethiopia, Burma, Laos, and Sudan share a similar birthday story!
Now in the US, some of our students have begun to recognize birthdays but mostly just their children’s. Staff member, Mohamed, mentions that he will sometimes get his children a small gift because they are growing accustomed to US culture. He’s also found that birthdays can be useful because he can remind his children that they are a year older and expected to act more mature!
Mohamed added that for Muslims there is one notable birthday that does get celebrated – that of the Prophet Muhammad. The day changes each year, but it is a time to share stories and give thanks for the Prophet.
Aside from birthdays, students recognize other important days like marriage, death, their arrival in the US, the day they became a US citizen, and religious holidays. With so much to celebrate, they say they don’t need more than a small recognition on January 1st!