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'From Being Alone To A Whole Family,' An Iraqi Interpreter's Dream Fulfilled

Feb 3, 2017
Originally published on February 3, 2017 12:33 pm

When we last heard from Philip, an Iraqi interpreter living in Minnesota, he was trying to bring his family to the U.S.

Philip came to the United States in 2013 and was living with Paul Braun, the sergeant of the company he was assigned to in Iraq. Braun and Philip spoke to StoryCorps in 2014.

"You scared me, dude," Philip says. "Your attitude in the beginning and with your Mohawk — "

"I scared everybody with that Mohawk," Braun says.

"You told me, 'If you try to mess with my soldiers, I will shoot you,' " Philip remembers.

"You smiled at me and said, 'Someday, we will be able to laugh about this conversation while we're drinking tea,' " Braun replies. "And that's when I knew, 'I think this guy will be OK.' And my Iraqi interpreter became my American brother."

"And my American soldier became my Iraqi brother," Philip says.

In that interview, Philip tells Paul he is going to go back to Iraq to get his wife and four children, and because of the dangers there, he puts his chances of making it back safe at 50-50.

Philip's family's visas were finally approved last year, and his family arrived in Minnesota in October, along with his nephew, Andy, who also served as a U.S. Army interpreter. In December, Philip and Andy spoke at StoryCorps in Minneapolis.

"I still remember the date and the time when the embassy emailed me saying, 'Congratulations, your family can come any minute now. We have the visa,' " Philip says. "I was like, shocked."

"What were you feeling when you first saw me in the airport?" Andy asks him.

"Oh my God, I was like, all of a sudden I start clapping and jumping, saying 'ahlan wa sahlan,' 'Welcome, I'm so happy to see you,' " he says.

Andy asks Philip what has been hardest to adjust to these past three years in America.

"As immigrant who come from completely different culture, you'll see the people here, like, most of them are nicely, friendly and they respect your religion, your background, but, you know, I work as a caregiver in a senior home. So one day, one of my residents he start calling me racist names," he says. "But we start talking and one year later he said, 'I'm sorry. Philip, you changed my mind.' "

Philip says coming home from work and being alone has been hard. "So from being alone to a whole family with my best friend and nephew with me, what do I need more?" he says.

"Yeah," Andy says.

"That's it," Philip says.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar with Andrés Caballero.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In today's StoryCorps, we hear of the journey of an Army interpreter and his family, a journey from Iraq to Minnesota. American soldiers nicknamed this interpreter Philip because he loved Philip Morris cigarettes. And he kept that name once he came to the United States. His immigration was sponsored by a sergeant in the company with which he had worked - Paul Braun. And Braun and Philip first came to StoryCorps in 2014.

PAUL BRAUN: Do you remember the first day that we met?

PHILIP MORRIS: Oh, you scared me, dude, your attitude in the beginning and with your mohawk.

BRAUN: (Laughter) I scared everybody with that mohawk.

MORRIS: You told me if you try to mess with my soldier, I will shoot you.

BRAUN: And what did you do?

MORRIS: I was smiling at you (laughter).

BRAUN: You smiled at me and said some day we will be able to laugh about this conversation while we're drinking tea. And that's when I knew I think this guy will be OK. And my Iraqi interpreter became my American brother.

MORRIS: And my American soldier became my Iraqi brother.

INSKEEP: As a former interpreter, Philip's life was in constant danger in Iraq. And although he managed to make his way to the United States, his wife and four children did not until, after three years of trying, their visas were approved. They arrived in Minnesota three months ago, along with Philip's nephew Andy who also served as an interpreter for the U.S. Philip and Andy recently spoke at StoryCorps.

MORRIS: You know, I still remember the date and the time when the embassy emailed me saying, congratulation, your family can come any minute now. We had the visa. I was, like, shocked.

ANDY: What were you feeling when you first saw me in the airport?

MORRIS: Oh, my God, I was like all of sudden start clapping and jumping, saying, ahlan wa sahlan, welcome. I'm so happy to see you.

ANDY: You have been here for three years. What was the hardest thing to adjust to in the U.S.?

MORRIS: As immigrant who come from completely different culture, you will see the people here, like, most of them, they are nicely, friendly, and they respect your religion, your background. But, you know, I work as a caregiver in senior home. So one day, one of my residents, he start calling me racist names. But we start talking, and one year later, he said I'm sorry. Philip, you changed my mind. You know, when I remember my last couple years, like, working by myself here, I used to work, like, four different jobs. And in the end of the day, go home, there is no one waiting for you.

ANDY: Yeah.

MORRIS: That's hard feeling.

ANDY: Yeah.

MORRIS: So from being alone to a whole family with my best friend and nephew with me, what do I need more?

ANDY: Yeah.

MORRIS: That's it.

INSKEEP: Two former Iraqi interpreters for the United States, Philip and Andy, at StoryCorps in Minneapolis. Their conversation was recorded in December and will be archived at the Library of Congress. You can hear more from Philip on the StoryCorps podcast found at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.