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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

This Harborview doctor didn't have role models, so she became one

Dr. Anisa Ibrahim with her two children
Courtesy of Anisa Ibrahim
Dr. Anisa Ibrahim with her two children

My cousin Anisa Ibrahim is 30 years old. She’s funny, kind, and compassionate, and an amazing sister, mother, and doctor. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, she came to America when she was 6 years old and has accomplished so much since then. 

Today Anisa is a primary care doctor at Harborview Medical Center's Pediatrics Clinic in Seattle. She had no role models when she became a doctor, but now she’s a role model for the next generation of her family. 

Anisa knew she wanted to be a doctor all her life. She told me her earliest memories were of being in a refugee camp and seeing a tuberculosis outbreak, then watching her sister get mumps and measles.

"Just seeing a lot of disease that could easily be cured," she said, "and not understanding what it was, but being inspired by the people who helped."

I wanted to know more about what pushed her and who supported her dreams of becoming a doctor, especially after she gave birth to both of her daughters.

"My siblings and my mom have raised my children with me," she said. "They let me study 24/7. When I was thinking should I have kids or not, my mom said, you go for it. You take care of medical school, and I'll help you take care of my grandbabies."

From a young student till today, Anisa has always had an incredible amount of motivation and drive. She came to America and had to learn a whole new culture and language. Despite all obstacles, she persevered. 

"I am an immigrant, a refugee, somebody who came here and literally started from rock bottom, and to see something and say, 'I want that and am going to go after that,' I think being able to accomplish that really pushed me.”

In school, I always had so much support with my teachers and counselors. They always pushed me although I wasn't that easy to get through to, as I was a troublemaker. (I grew out of that stage.) Anisa wasn't as lucky as me. She had family support but not institutional and community support. 

I asked her what was her biggest obstacle in it all.

"I was the first person in my family to attend college in the United States," she said, "so not knowing the process like, how do you apply for colleges, what does 'pre-med' mean, how do you get into a college, what makes you competitive? [For] all of those things, I was the first person who had to figure it out."

Anisa said when she told her high school counselor she wanted to become a doctor their response was, "You should focus on graduating first." When she told her college counselor she wanted to be a doctor, they said, "What about nursing school? Medical school is really hard." She looked around and saw, "There's really no one that looks like me around here."

I see how successful my cousin is. I have to take advantage of the support I have, because if people are capable of making it with nothing, then I'm more than capable of making it as well.

One thing Anisa taught me is that you can’t be afraid to hear the word "no."

"If I took no for an answer, I don't know where I’d be," she said.

The way she got into TB research for the first time? She asked a professor when she was a freshman in college. "Everyone was like, 'That guy hasn't really worked with students.' I said, 'Hey can I work with you?' and he said, 'Oh sure, nobody's asked me that in a long time.'

"Don't be afraid to hear 'no' because 'no' never killed anyone right? But if you never ask that's a missed opportunity.”

I’m still finding my way in life, figuring out who I am, what’s my place is in this world and what I want to make out of my life. Looking up to Anisa and all her accomplishments through all her obstacles, I’ve found a ridiculous amount of motivation and I’m inspired to turn my life into something just as amazing.

This story was created in RadioActive Youth Media's 2017 After-School Workshop for high school students at New Holly in partnership with Seattle Housing Authority. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter