Moon’s father had been a soldier in Sudan since the age of 12 and ended up in Ethiopia after escaping the Second Sudanese Civil War. He met Moon’s mother, Fetelwork, in 1984, while she worked at the camps as a translator for the UN. Fetelwork knew nothing about Sudanese people and felt scared when she found out that he liked her. He was persistent, bringing her tea and cookies and always asking her for help with his homework. Then he invited her over to his house. The first night she stayed there, she hid under the bed out of fear that he may eat her. In 1990 they married.
Life in Ethiopia was never easy for Fetelwork and her husband.
“In Ethiopia you have to struggle for your life.”
Moon was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Growing up, her father called her “Cow Eyes,” saying that her eyes were way too big for her head.
“I remember herding sheep in the hills. I remember hearing hyenas laughing outside at night.”
Moon is the middle child in the family. According to her mother, Moon was more independent and mischievous than her other seven children. To have quiet when visiting Grandma, they would tie Moon by bedsheet to a table leg. Only then, Fetelwork recalls, could they drink coffee peacefully.
Moon’s parents’ common language is English, so Moon picked up a little bit before coming to the United States. According to Moon’s mother, the fact that Moon’s father is a Sudanese refugee helped their case for being formally resettled to the United States.
Moon, at four years of age, didn’t understand why her family was leaving the refugee camp. She had just planted this little watermelon plant, and they were ripping her away from it. She was excited to watch it grow, and now she couldn’t. (audio below)
In 1995 when her family arrived in Maine, Moon remembers how it may have been cold outside but the local community made her feel warm. It was a time when there was a massive influx of immigrants and refugees moving to the state. Maine’s population is 98% white, and in general, the white Mainers approached these newcomers with curiosity, not stigma. Still, it didn’t take long for Moon to experience racism.
“I remember when they called me ‘nigger’. I didn’t know what that word meant.” (audio below)
Understanding her family’s history has always been of great importance to Moon. Growing up, her father would always quiz her about their family tree, making sure she never forgot where her people came from. (audio below)
Moon still feels most comfortable in her mom’s kitchen. The smell of incense and familiar foods, bring her peace.
“If my mom is making coffee, it means everything is okay.”
In the Portland neighborhood, where Moon’s mother lives, she is famous for her popcorn. All the kids in the area come by regularly to taste this simple secret recipe she takes pride in. (audio below)
Moon works in youth advocacy and is passionate about empowering peoples’ voices that aren’t being heard. As a survivor of abuse herself, she wants to protect others from losing their innocence.
“I feel like all of humanity is sick.” (audio below)
Moon found the stigma she faced in her own community, as a survivor of abuse, to be debilitating. This is why she became obsessed with getting strong physically and joined the national guard for four years – trying to show that women can be strong. Her father encouraged Moon to have a voice – always bringing her with him to important meetings with elders in their community.
“I think that women will be the ones that bring back healing. My father always told me to be better than the boys. A woman can stand in a man’s presence and be as strong as she wants to be and even surpass a man.” (audio below)
Moon and her colleague Patricia (above) are trying to put together a new social enterprise organization focused on “kindness projects” to empower women. She hopes it will eventually lead her to help specifically with women in South Sudan.
Moon likes to express herself in spoken word. When she was going through a period of depression, she found it lifted after she wrote her poem, Have you seen my Son? (audio below)
Moon feels like immigrants, in general, are misunderstood and vilified. She thinks it’s important to put faces and stories to who they are and for Americans to learn about what happened in these peoples’ homelands that caused them to move.
“I want to empower others like me to rise above all stigma placed against us. I want to show them that an African girl can speak on prestigious platforms and that conformity isn’t a transition plan we are willing to accept in this country. America was built on the foundation of being a new land of dreams and opportunity, and I should not feel ashamed for asking for the freedom and opportunity offered to everyone else. I love to tell my story, because past being an immigrant, I’m just a passionate human.” (audio below)
Moon feels like the warmth she felt upon arriving in Maine is thinning with the current administration.
“I often find it strange that the place I know most as ‘home’ isn’t a place that necessarily sees my presence as a positive addition.”
Still, Moon’s commitment to her community is unstoppable.
Moon’s family lost their whole suitcase when moving from Ethiopia to the United States.
“We literally landed here and had nothing.”
She knows what it is like to lose everything, and that’s why her goals and how she will measure her success is more focused on relationships than tangible things.
“I always say I would be happy living in a hut. I constantly make sure that my end goal is nothing materialistic.” (audio below)
To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!
© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.