In 'Welcome To The New World,' A Syrian Refugee Family's Resettlement Is Captured In Comics Welcome To The New World begins in 2016 when the Aldabaans arrive on election day — and wake up in Donald Trump's America. Author Jake Halpern began to document the newcomers in a comic strip.

A Syrian Refugee Family's Resettlement In The U.S. Is Captured In Graphic Novel

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/915769774/918317589" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This next story begins in 2016, when a Syrian refugee family arrived in Connecticut a day after the election of Donald Trump. Author Jake Halpern documented the family's ordeals in a series in The New York Times with artist Michael Sloan. Now they have a new graphic novel "Welcome To The New World." NPR's Deborah Amos caught up with the author and family together.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: When the Aldabaans looked for their first family home in America, they chose this quiet suburban neighborhood with a grassy backyard and room for bikes and birds. It's where I meet Jake Halpern. We mask up outside to meet the family.

JAKE HALPERN: They just bought this house. The mom and the dad, Adeebah and Ibrahim, and also Naji, the oldest son, have all been working basically full-time in order to get a mortgage for this.

(Non-English language spoken).

Naji, how are you?

AMOS: The welcomes here are warm and familiar, sprinkled with Arabic greetings that Halpern's learned. Everyone in the family now speaks English.

IBRAHIM ALDABAAN: Hi, my name is Ibrahim Aldabaan. Here is my family. I have five children.

AMOS: It's been a long journey; from Homs, Syria, where a civil war drove the family to flee to a refugee camp in Jordan. The approval to resettle to the U.S. came in 2016 and posed another agonizing decision. Only Ibrahim, his wife and children could travel. The extended family - a grandmother, two uncles, wives and cousins - their approvals were still pending. Remember; it's 2016. The presidential election and candidate Trump was promising to end refugee resettlement, especially for Syrians.

NAJI ALDABAAN: So we were so scared that Trump will win the election. My dad's mother - she told my dad, if we go to the United States and Trump wins, I might not see you again. So that was one of the things that pushed my dad to not go.

AMOS: But Naji pushed back. The only future for the family was in America, he argued. He'd been out of school for five years.

HALPERN: This was a big part of why Naji was pushing so hard for the family to come to America, relentlessly pushing his dad.

AMOS: But you win.

N ALDABAAN: I won, yeah (laughter). Yeah.

HALPERN: All right.

AMOS: But this day is for celebrating that decision and a book about them...

HALPERN: So here at the back is the picture of your family

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Wow.

AMOS: ...From the beginning of the journey...

HALPERN: This is your apartment in Syria.

AMOS: ...To a detailed account of the refugee experience. There were surprising terrors, like bears - Ibrahim had spotted some in suburban Connecticut when he was delivering packages for Amazon - and fear of basements, unknown in Syria except in American horror movies, says Adeebah.

Oh, so you think a basement is scary.

ADEEBAH ALDABAAN: Yes. Yes. I see the movie in my country.

N ALDABAAN: We'd never had basements before like that.

AMOS: There were also real hazards - a fire that burned up everything and forced them to move, a frightening death threat on Ibrahim's cellphone that warned the family would die unless they went back to their country. The first call Ibrahim made was to Halpern.

HALPERN: I'll never forget it. It was a night in winter. There was a snowstorm coming. It was actually a really weird situation as a journalist because I knew in a horrible way it was good for the story. But that night, I decided, OK, I'm there to show support. That was really intense.

AMOS: But through it all, Ibrahim still says he is lucky.

I ALDABAAN: Still, I have my children. I have my family. I am like any American. Yes, I'm lucky.

HALPERN: Ibrahim also made his own luck. I've just seen this man just worry and push for his family for four years. And yes, I often tell him that I admire him as another dad for that.

AMOS: But a dad, a refugee dad, sometimes has to make wrenching choices. He left his mother and brothers in Jordan for his children's future here. Four years on, Naji, now a high school senior, is planning for college along with his sister. Ibrahim put an American flag outside the front window as soon as the family moved in. The Aldabaans cannot forget all they have lost, but Halpern's new book also documents what they have gained.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.