Iraq refugee designs an American dream



Hasan Alsuhil’s American dream started on the streets of Iraq.


Alsuhil, 39, is a graphic design student at Pima Community College. He arrived in the United States five years ago and has lived in Tucson ever since.


In Iraq, Alsuhil lived with many restrictions.


“If you had the freedom that I had in my country, you wouldn’t call it freedom,” he said.


Alsuhil has always had a passion for graphic design, but that option wasn’t available when he attended the University of Baghdad. Instead, he obtained a degree in engineering.


After college, Alsuhil opened his own computer store with colleagues from school. They repaired computers and taught classes.


The Iraqi government imposed many supervisory laws that restricted what citizens could do. They could only use approved forms of media, and anyone who violated the law was subject to prison time.


“You can go to jail for just having a Yahoo account,” Alsuhil said.


The restrictions seemed normal to Alsuhil, who affectionately refers to his time in Iraq as living in a can.


Life came to an abrupt halt on a day he was heading home after shopping with his mother. A tank blocked the road.


He knew tensions were high between his country and the United States, but had no idea that Iraq was going to be invaded.


He and his mother were forced to stay with his cousins while they waited out the invasion. All they could do was sleep and hope they would wake up in the morning.


When the fighting ended, he learned the building next to his house was a munitions depot. It was destroyed along with everything around it.


As a new regime entered power, life wasn’t perfect but it was better than what he experienced previously.


“The old regime was like cancer, and the new one like a bad flu,” he said. “Flu in comparison to cancer, yea, you can deal with that.”


Crime flourished during the growing pains of new leadership. One such crime was kidnapping wealthy Iraqis and holding them for ransom. Although Alsuhil wasn’t rich, some believed him to be.


Alsuhil began receiving threatening letters on his doorstep, demanding money. He knew what to expect if he didn’t comply.


“That was just a few days after my neighbor was kidnapped,” he said. “They weren’t kidding.”


That night he took what little he had, went to the airport and fled to Jordan.


Many Iraqis were fleeing their war-torn country, but they did not plan on abandoning their country permanently. They lived in Jordan, waiting for things to get better.


Alsuhil’s situation did not improve. Neighbors told him the letters continued to arrive. The kidnappers were still after him and knew that he was in Jordan.


He sought the assistance of the United Nations, which had a program in place for refugee resettlement. The process took two years and he was relocated in Tucson.


Alsuhil was fearful when he first arrived. He wasn’t sure how Americans would treat him, after what happened on Sept. 11 and with the growing dissension over the occupation of Iraq.


Those fears quickly subsided when he began meeting people. In fact, he was shocked that people apologized to him over what happened in his country.


Alsuhil was overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity of the people he came across in Tucson. He quickly made friends.


When he learned about PCC, he knew it was time to pursue his passion for graphic design. His Pima instructors motivated him.


His latest accolade is winning the logo contest for a new Creative Writing Center at West Campus. His design was selected from more than two dozen entries.


“We thought it was really attractive,” English and Journalism Chair Meg Files said. “It’s simple but it attracts attention.”


Along with the recognition, Alsuhil also took home $100.


For Alsuhil, retelling his story still brings pain. But through it all, he smiles and celebrates his good luck.


Pg01-Hasan profile
Hasan Alsuhil works in the digital arts lab on West Campus. (Larry Gaurano/ Aztec Press)

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