Taban Duku, South Sudan

The arrival: April 1999.

The job: Taxi driver.

The story: Duku had to flee not one but two countries before arriving in the United States. In 1986, still a teenager, he had to flee South Sudan during a civil war, when children and teens were being rousted into battle. The war, and the famine it caused, killed 2 million people and displaced 4 million more—Duku’s mother was killed in a fire that troops had set in his village; his father had already died. There was nothing left for him but to be consumed by the chaos. What he wanted was an education. He left for North Sudan and hoped to go to college, but South Sudanese were not particularly welcome in the north, and college admission for them was extremely competitive. Duku was not among the lucky few. He later moved to Lebanon to study history, but before he could finish, Lebanon plunged into turmoil. His next move brought him to the United States as a refugee.

The present: Duku is now a U.S. citizen. When he’s not driving a cab, he works to educate the South Sudanese community in Las Vegas—and he’s looking for grants to launch a community center where families can teach their children about their heritage and culture. “When they go back to their parents’ country, they can fit in that community and still fit here, too,” he says. He recently hosted a party for the South Sudanese community to celebrate the country’s independence. “It is a great day because we are no longer refugees,” he says. “No one wants to be a refugee.” But by now, Duku considers himself a proud American. In fact, he’s studying for the Foreign Service Exam and dreaming of working for the State Department.

The message: No matter how well he does in the U.S., Duku says he will never forget his roots. “I miss it,” he says. “I miss my land and the good memories as well as the bad memories, because memories are all you have. When I teach about my country, I go with my memories and I return like a kid—happy.”

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