For Some New Americans, Capitol Attack Was An Echo Of Turmoil They'd Hoped To Escape | Connecticut Public Radio
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For Some New Americans, Capitol Attack Was An Echo Of Turmoil They'd Hoped To Escape

Jan 9, 2021
Originally published on January 10, 2021 8:46 pm

Earlier this week, 34-year-old management consultant Rhazi Koné was taking a walk through his Washington, D.C., neighborhood when he noticed an unusual group of people.

"I think maybe four men and two women and they didn't have any masks on," he recalls. "And I walked past them, and noticed that two of them had jackets on which said 'Proud Boys.' "

The letters were in yellow on black jackets — the colors of the Proud Boys, a violent gang of self-described Western chauvinists that have become a staple at pro-Trump demonstrations. It was Tuesday, the day before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Koné's apartment is only about 15 minutes away from the Capitol. The next day, as he was watching the news, it began to dawn on him that something big was happening. He went to the rooftop of his building — he could see the Capitol from there.

"It looked just like madness. Just looked like a movie," he says. "And it just really felt like something terrible was happening.

For many Americans, this week's attack were shocking. But for the millions of Americans born in countries with a history of political instability, the event has carried a different resonance.

Koné grew up in the Ivory Coast, a country that's been marred by civil war, but he makes clear that while he was running away from war, he wasn't a refugee. He was a 17-year-old who wanted more opportunities — a wider choice of colleges and to live someplace where there was hope.

Today, Koné is a permanent resident and on the way to becoming a U.S. citizen. So standing on the roof on Wednesday afternoon, watching the attack on his adopted country unfold, he says he felt a multitude of emotions.

"I really felt sad. This is exactly what I ran away from and here I am again, experiencing the same thing," he says. "I just always thought that America is better than that."

Koné says never in his wildest dreams did he think an attack like this could happen in America. But Nelly Miguel, another American with roots in a country with a history of political upheaval, was less surprised.

"When you've seen something up close, then you know it's possible," she says.

Miguel is in her early 60s. She's the assistant head of a private middle school in New Jersey. But she grew up in Venezuela. She left home to study in the U.S., where she has earned three masters degrees. After finishing her second masters, all of the sudden there was rampant inflation and no jobs in Venezuela. Facing uncertain prospects back home, she decided she wanted her future to be in the U.S.

"I am American now. But I'm not in the sense that I see Americans think that what they have is inherited and doesn't need to be nurtured, and it can't change."

Miguel says she has some advice for Americans who haven't previously experienced the kind of political upheaval that descended on the nation's capitol this week. Believe in our rules — in the Constitution.

"If you lose that, then it's only a set of papers that say a few rules," she says.

Koné says Americans need to show curiosity about each other, and a willingness to listen to the other side. He says America has been very focused on trying to spread democracy outwards. Now, he says, it's time to focus on what's needed at home, though he's not sure if Americans are ready to do the work it will take to repair the country.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week's assault on the U.S. Capitol threatened a hallmark of American democracy, the peaceful transition of power. For some of the millions of Americans born in countries with their own histories of political violence, the insurrection had a particular resonance. Sally Herships reports.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: Rhazi Kone is a management consultant. He lives in Washington, D.C. Earlier this week, he was taking a walk through his neighborhood.

RHAZI KONE: And so I was just walking down the streets. And I noticed, I think, six or seven people - I think maybe four men and two women - and didn't have any masks on. And I walked past them and noticed that two of them had jackets on which it said Proud Boys.

HERSHIPS: Proud Boys written in yellow on black jackets. It was Tuesday, the day before the attack on the Capitol. Kone's apartment is only about 15 minutes away. The next day, as he was watching the news, it began to dawn on him that something big was happening. He went to the roof of his building. He could see the Capitol from there.

KONE: It looked just like madness. It just looked like a movie or just looked like something - just the amount of sirens - I mean, there were cops and ambulances just driving by over and over. And it just really felt like something terrible was happening.

HERSHIPS: Kone grew up in the Ivory Coast. The country is one that's been marred by civil war. But Kone wants to be clear. Yes, he was running away from war, but he wasn't a refugee. It was a decade and a half ago. He was a teenager and wanted more opportunities, somewhere there was hope. Now he's a permanent resident and on the way to becoming a citizen. So standing on the roof that afternoon across the Atlantic Ocean from the Ivory Coast watching the attack on his adopted country unfold, Kone says he felt a multitude of emotions.

KONE: I felt sad. I really felt sad. This is exactly what I ran away from. And here I am again, experiencing the same thing. And I just always thought that America is better than that. And I always thought that, as a nation, the U.S. could do much better.

HERSHIPS: Did you think, as someone who is an immigrant to the United States, that you would ever see something like what happened yesterday happen here?

KONE: No. I don't think in my wildest of dreams I never thought this could be ever happening to - like, in this nation, actually.

HERSHIPS: But Nelly Miguel, another American with roots in a country with a history of political upheaval, sounds less surprised.

NELLY MIGUEL: I don't know that I expected it. But when you've seen something up close, then you know it's possible.

HERSHIPS: Miguel was in her early 60s. She's the assistant head of a private middle school in New Jersey. But she grew up in Venezuela.

MIGUEL: We didn't see ourselves as a third-world country. Of course we didn't. We were fine.

HERSHIPS: But when she finished college and two master's degrees, all of the sudden, there was inflation - 20 bolivars to one U.S. dollar and no jobs. She'd attended college in the U.S. and decided to emigrate.

MIGUEL: I am American now. But I'm not in the sense that - I see Americans think that what they have is inherited and doesn't need to be nurtured, and it can't change.

HERSHIPS: So Miguel has some advice for Americans who haven't experienced this kind of upheaval before. Believe in our rules, in the Constitution.

MIGUEL: If you lose that, then it's only a set of papers that say a few rules. Everybody had those. Venezuela had those. Russia had those. You know, the strongman throws them away and declares himself - usually, it's a him - leader for life.

HERSHIPS: Miguel says she has hope, but she's not sure she has faith. She says that depends on politicians to get the job done. Rhazi Kone also has some thoughts on how Americans can find their way back to a peaceful medium.

KONE: I think the first thing is to start showing curiosity and a willingness to listen to the other side, to the opposing side.

HERSHIPS: He says America has been very focused on trying to spread democracy outwards. Now, he says, it's time to focus on what's needed at home. But he's not sure if Americans are ready to take an honest look at what's happening within their own borders. Sally Herships, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.