‘Am I a refugee?’ Best Buy employee explores identity

June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world and the efforts to protect their human rights. This year’s theme, Every Action Counts, highlights the importance of creating a more just, inclusive and equal world. 

Every minute, 20 people around the world leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror, according to the U.N. Hashim Ali is one of them — but, as he’ll tell you, his identity is so much more.

Hashim, who works in employee relations at Best Buy, came to the United States from Kenya in 2003 to seek opportunity. His experience as a refugee is not what many people think of when they hear the word.

“When you think Africa, you think backward and uncivilized,” he said. “People think you lived in a hut or had a lion for a pet.”

But that, he said, just isn’t accurate.

Hashim saw the effects of extreme poverty in Kenya, but it’s not the first thing he talks about. He talks about the beauty of growing up with multiple generations in one household, living at a slower pace and not having to worry about snow.

His family fled to Kenya from Somalia as refugees in 1992, right as a civil war was breaking out. Only 6 years old at the time, he doesn’t remember it.

“One day we’re in Somalia, and the next we’re not,” he said.

Dancing with Best Buy

Hashim started at Best Buy last September after a 14-year career at another retailer.

He was drawn to the company’s values. And now, he sees those values lived out every day by his co-workers and leadership as they respect and value differences in culture, language and backgrounds.

“One of the best quotes I’ve heard about diversity and inclusion is that diversity is being invited to a party. Inclusion is being asked to dance,” he said.

And that’s what he sees at Best Buy.

“From an institutional perspective, I also see all these steps Best Buy is taking. Our leadership is continuing to lead the way, continuing to walk the walk,” he said, citing Best Buy’s recent announcement to recognize Juneteenth as a formal company holiday beginning next year.

The question of identity

Three million refugees have sought refuge in the U.S. since 1975.

The U.N. defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of persecution because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

But, for Hashim, there’s more to it than this definition.  

“Am I a refugee? Factually speaking, yes. But, beyond that, I’m a human being,” he said. “I don’t want to just be tethered with ‘refugee.’ There’s just more to it than that.”  

He describes himself as having multiple layers of identities.

“It could be African, Somali, Muslim, Black,” he said. “Each layer is deep and has its own meaning.”