On a toasty Tuesday afternoon, Suleqa Ismail wears the trademarks of two different continents: her dark, shoulder-length headscarf reflects the tradition of her native Somalia, while the purse she carries — white with a sequined Minnie Mouse appliqué — is classic American. The split runs through her family, too: The oldest of Ismail’s four children, 9-year-old daughter Fartun, was born in Africa, but her 17-month-old son, Fuad, is a stateside native.
There’s even some ambivalence to her experience in the United States. Although Ismail and her husband, Saleman Adan, are infinitely grateful that they were able to leave war-plagued Somalia and come here as refugees four years ago, the challenges they’ve faced since have made their transition less than smooth. They’re one of many African families in Portland who’ve run across serious housing hurdles since arriving in the U.S.
Since January of 2007, Ismail and Adan have lived with their children at the New Columbia, the Housing Authority of Portland’s sprawling low-income housing complex in North Portland. They pay a third of their income for rent, which was adjusted down when Adan was laid off from his job with a rental car company in February of last year.
This spring, they received a letter stating that the clutter in their yard was in violation of their lease, but because they can’t read English and speak only a Somali dialect called Maay Maay, they didn’t realize the notice was important, and it was forgotten.
In July, to their surprise, Ismail and Adan received a final eviction notice. The couple was baffled. Continue reading