When Rubens Mukunzi was a journalist in his home country of Rwanda, all was fine until officials wanted him to publish more favorable stories about the government in his newspaper, Oasis Gazette. They ignored his protests that it was not a journalist’s job to publish only good things about a government at its insistence. He reminded them that his publication centered on educational issues to enlighten the community and did not exist to distribute government propaganda. Still, they persisted.
In similar situations, Rwandan journalists who ignored these requests often had their newspapers shut down and became the targets of threats, bodily injury, and even death, so he knew not to take them lightly.
However, even though he was also a high-profile radio personality, “Mr. Bean” from Radio 10 (yes, named after that Mr. Bean), Mukunzi knew to take the government’s “suggestions” more seriously when they became more pointed.
Knowing that his life was at risk, he requested asylum when he was in New York City for a United Nations conference for international journalists.
The United States granted his request, and Mukunzi has lived in Buffalo since 2013.
He had a friend who was originally from Rwanda living in the Queen City, and that made it easier. But there were challenges. As an asylum seeker, he could not work initially and was not eligible for any public assistance; he had to rely totally on his friend’s kindness for about a year.
Because he was unemployed, there were fewer places to meet other people. His minimal English skills made it difficult when he met others.
Once he got permission to work, things started to change for Mukunzi. He started a newspaper, Karibu News, to help New Americans connect with their new community. Right now, the publication is transitioning to an all-digital non-profit publication. He also is the owner of his own cleaning company, Madiba Janitorial.
Recently, he became a naturalized American citizen.
“It’s not easy to leave everything behind and start a new life from zero in a new country,” Rubens Mukunzi says. “Of course, there have been struggles, but I am very proud of who I am today. I feel safer in this country.”
He says a way to be more welcoming is not to be suspicious of newcomers from other countries. Mukunzi recommends getting to know them with the understanding that they are likely coming from unsafe situations. He also suggests helping them overcome simple difficulties like assisting them to learn English or learning about the American education system.
“I didn’t come here to seek money; I came here because I was unsafe back home,” Mukunzi adds. “This country is made up of immigrants. Americans should appreciate that. We can help make America more beautiful.”
Welcoming Week is a national campaign and celebration to showcase communities that strive to “be more welcoming places for all, including immigrants.”
Since Buffalo’s nickname is “The City of Good Neighbors,” our theme is Being a Good Neighbor Starts with a Welcome!
Here are profiles of local foreign-born people describing their journeys and how Western New York welcomed them with the hope that their stories can illustrate the many ways to be a good neighbor.
Were you born in another country? What is your story? How were you welcomed in Western New York? Let us know!