Before arriving in the U.S., Naji Aldabaan and his family left Syria and were living as refugees in Jordan.
Naji Aldabaan, age 19.
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On November 8th, 2016, in the hours before Donald Trump was elected, the Aldabaan family stepped onto U.S. soil for the first time. They had waited for this moment for years, as Syrian war refugees living in Jordan. But because of President Trump's new immigration policies, their extended family was not allowed to join them, and the America they'd dreamed about seemed full of hidden dangers. Were they wrong to have come? Should they have never left Jordan in the first place? The weight of this decision lay most heavily on the shoulders of 15-year-old Naji Aldabaan, the oldest boy, who had stepped into the role of family protector while his father was in a Syrian jail cell and never stopped trying to keep the family safe from harm.
Jake Halpern, a freelance journalist and young adult novelist, followed the Albadaan family story from the first day of their arrival, chronicling their experiences in a Pulitzer-prize winning comic strip for The New York Times. The complete story is available for the first time in a graphic novel, Welcome To The New World.
Halpern took on the project because he was interested in telling the refugee experience from a young adult perspective. But very quickly he realized that Naji Aldabaan no longer saw himself as a kid. As a reporter, Halpern found himself chronicling not only the family's attempt to settle in the U.S., but also Naji's complicated quest to "be a kid again" and reclaim a childhood cut short by war.
Read more about Naji's journey from Syria to the Connecticut suburbs, and see excerpts of the graphic novel about the experience by writer Jake Halpern and illustrator Michael Sloan.